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A chance encounter in a public park would erase Lionel Pries, one of America's great architects, from history. Jeffrey Karl Ochner's new book hopes to bring the legacy of Lionel Pries back to life.

Clad in a turtleneck, khakis, and tennis shoes, University of Washington architecture professor Jeffrey Ochsner stands outside his Seattle home, discussing its relationship to the land and its impact on the viewer. Squinting behind his glasses on this unusually sunny winter day, he points out that the sweeping curve of the driveway forms a question mark punctuating the house -- interesting, as the structure's straightforward concrete facade belies the secrets contained within.

This house on Lake Washington was designed by architect Lionel Pries. In some ways, it was the house as much as the man -- Ochsner began writing the book before he moved into the house -- that helped the professor craft the new biography Lionel H. Pries, Architect, Artist, Educator: From Arts and Crafts to Modern Architecture.

"When you come up, you don't really get a sense of what you're going to get," Ochsner says of the house. "Then you come in."

Lionel H. Pries, Julian and Marajane Barksdale residence, Seattle, 1948-1949, 1954-1955, northeast elevation. Photo by Frank L Jenkins

When he opens the front door the space suddenly awakens, yawning into a wide-open room of wood, angled to the windows beyond in such a way as to highlight only the natural world -- the grass, trees, and rippling water. It's a sight to behold. House and nature are one.

The vision is typical of many Pries designs: a private space that incorporates the environment even as it shuts out the neighbors. His homes have an almost hesitant sociability, penetrable only after an invitation. Says Ochsner: "It's all about how you get there."

If you've never heard of Lionel Pries, you're not alone. Though an accomplished architect -- not to mention painter, sculptor, and printmaker -- he's perhaps best known in the architecture world as an educator. Many of his students went on to have careers in the spotlight, including Los Angeles architect A. Quincy Jones, designer of the Shorecliff Tower Apartments in Santa Monica, and Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Center. Pries designed numerous structures as a member of various firms and on his own, some of which have yet to be discovered, but has been far eclipsed by many of his pupils.

"For years there wasn't really much known about Lionel Pries," says Ochsner. "It's as if it's been written out of history." The reason? Pries, who was also employed by UW, was discovered to be gay in the homophobic 1950s.

Pries was born in 1897 in San Francisco. His father worked at Gump's, a Bay Area retailer specializing in European and Asian art. The ornate showrooms presumably made an impression on the young Pries, who went on to the University of California, Berkeley, where he absorbed a curriculum steeped in the pedagogy of the Paris-based Ecole des Beaux-Arts and finished at the top of his class. He then headed east to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied architecture under Paul Philippe Cret and won a number of awards.

Lionel H. Pries, untitled view of Mexican village, ca. 1930s; watercolor, 12-1/4 x 18-1/4 inches. College of Architecture & Urban Planning, University of Washington.

During frequent trips to Mexico in the '20s and '30s, Pries mixed with avant-garde artists such as Diego Rivera and was influenced by the architect Juan O'Gorman, who created structures with privacy in mind.

In 1928, Pries joined the University of Washington's faculty as professor of architecture, making what Ochsner describes as "an immediate impact." He placed a premium on the study of other art forms, from music to painting, as a means for his pupils to grow and develop as architects. "He had this tremendous ability to inspire students," says Ochsner, adding that Pries often boarded his students at his home, thereby creating a kind of extended family. But within his academic confines, Ochsner says, Pries remained deeply closeted.

"That period was very difficult for gay men," says the author. "There was a bifurcation between the emotional life and the sexual life, because stable [same-sex] relationships were impossible. The students at the university were Pries's family."

When we begin talking about Pries's dismissal from the university, Ochsner who is married and not gay, pauses. The air in his sun-splashed living room fills with silence, and he bends over on the couch, as if bracing himself against the story to come.

In the summer of 1958, Pries visited Robert W. Winskill, a younger friend who shared his interest in collecting, in Los Angeles. While Winskill was at work, Pries went to a park, which was at the time the only discreet venue for meeting other men. The man he encountered turned out to be a police officer.

Lionel H. Pries, Julian and Marajane Barksdale residence, Seattle, 1948-1949, 1954-1955, living room viewed from dining room. Photo by Frank L Jenkins.

The experience was humiliating -- Pries was arrested on "moral charges" and forced to pay a fine -- but it would also prove devastating to his career. In the late '50s, if a teacher was arrested in Los Angeles for homosexual behavior, a report had to be sent to the school at which he taught. On Friday, October 31, 1958, Pries was forced to resign from his position as professor of architecture at the University of Washington. By Monday, all traces of him were wiped from the school he'd been so devoted to.

Pries lost his benefits, his salary, and his pension; but perhaps more important, he lost his legacy. To earn a living, he worked for a former student as a draftsman. And while he played a part in the interior design of the Space Needle in Seattle and some minor residential projects, his presence at the university and in architectural history was all but erased when he died of a heart attack in 1968.

Ochsner exhales deeply. Pries's landscape, which cradles the exterior angles of the house, is visible from the wall-length windows behind him. He taps the cover of his biography, sitting on top of the coffee table. "Anyway," he says, "maybe this recovers some of it."

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