Joseph Esherick (Jr.) was born in Philadephia and attended Germantown High School before studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed a B. Arch. in 1937. His senior year, he shared second place in the Samuel Huckel Jr. Architectural Prize. Esherick began his career in Philadelphia, working briefly for George Howe. After graduating from Penn, Esherick moved to San Francisco, where, the following year, he found a position in the office of Gardner A. Dailey. In 1946, Esherick founded his own office in San Francisco, and went on to become one of the most important architects working in the region in the post-war era. By 1970, George Homsey, Peter Dodge, and Charles M. Davis had become associates in the office, and in 1972 the firm became Esherick, Homsey, Dodge & Davis in San Francisco.
Esherick has left an illuminating view of architectural education on the precipice of change at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s in his contribution to Spiro Kostof's The Architect: Chapters in the History of the Profession: At the beginning of his educational career, "Penn in the mid thirties was a firmly committed Beaux-Arts architectural school and had been for many years. Its connection with the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was deliberate and of long standing . . . (p.239)" However, by the time that Esherick achieved senior status:
Professor Cret had in the past taught the course in theory, but his voice was going and it was too much for him: he died in 1945 of cancer of the throat. The course was taken over by Professors Harbeson and Gumaer and dealt seriously with conflicts of long standing between the Beaux-Arts point of view and other emerging points of view. George Howe, on many occasions a guest lecturer, was the principal representative of what could then be confidently called modern architecture. Diffident and urbane on the surface, he was a heroic, gentlemanly anti-hero. . . .(p. 271-272)
Fortunately for Esherick he was able to cement his relationship to Howe after graduation, before moving to San Francisco in 1938 and eventually organizing his own office in 1946. His record of undergraduate years at the University of Pennsylvania reveals the design faculty on the brink of change and the students already questioning the Beaux-Arts method -- ready for a change that Esherick and others of his generation would embrace.
Sandra L. Tatman, and
Emily T. Cooperman.
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