Civic Structures: July 2006 Archives

Herman Ruhnau, AIA

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Last month, one of Southern California's notable post-modern architects, Herman O. Ruhnau, passed away at the age of 93 in Riverside, a city in which he left a distinctive architectural legacy.

A German by descent, Mr. Ruhnau was born Sept. 1, 1912, in Santa Barbara, eventually moving with his family to Pasadena before permanently relocating to Riverside. Ruhnau studied architecture at USC and served as an architect in the Navy during World War II, returning to Riverside following the war.

riv-2006-dt-county-005-450.jpg
2006
Riverside County
Administrative Center (1975)

riv-2006-dt-cityhall-003c-400.jpg
2006
Riverside City Hall (1975)

19840401-riv-dt-001ac-800.jpg
Original model of City Hall
Ruhnau

In 1950, Mr. Ruhnau was a founding partner of the Riverside architectural firm now known as Ruhnau, Ruhnau & Clarke. Among the buildings designed by Ruhnau's firm are two of the city's most prominent buildings: Riverside City Hall (1975) and Riverside County Administrative Center (1975):

When architect Herman Ruhnau was commissioned to design a new City Hall for Riverside in the early 1970s, his initial vision was of a sleek white concrete and recessed-glass building whose six-stories rose like alternating layers of vanilla cake with chocolate filling.

"Then we heard the cry: 'We want arches.'"

...

(On Riverside County Administrative Center) ...initial plans drafted in the mid-1960s called for an eight- to 10-story concrete and steel vertically striped tower on a solid two-story concrete base. But before the tower could be erected...Ruhnau says county officials asked for an additional two or three stories.

"We had only designed the foundation to hold 10 stories," he explains, "and the only way we could add the extra space was to redo the foundation, which was impossible, or to find some light building material that the foundation could hold."

Mirrored glass became the answer.

The Press-Enterprise (April, 1984)

Ruhnau's firm specialized in public buildings and built numerous schools throughout Inland Southern California, including La Sierra High School (1969), Norte Vista High School and Sherman Indian High School, all in Riverside. Ruhnau also designed the city's Marcy Branch Library (1958) and worked on the designs for Corona Naval Hospital in Norco.

Probably the most unique feature designed by the firm for Riverside that remains today is the downtown Main Street pedestrian mall (1966). Designed in response to the suburban exodus of retailers for large shopping malls -- including Riverside Plaza (1956) -- the pedestrian mall is making a comeback today as both residents, retailers and businesses alike rediscover its uniqueness and charm in the heart of downtown Riverside.

The non-vehicular, park-like mall stretches for 7 city blocks (Tenth to Third streets) with only one interruption (Fifth to Sixth streets) and one yet to be fully developed portion (Fourth to Third streets). Major anchors along the mall include the Mission Inn, California Tower, UCR/CMP, UCR/Culver Arts Center, Riverside Marriott as well as two civic buildings: Raincross Square Convention Center and the aforementioned City Hall.

Although a number of similar pedestrian malls were created as a response to the suburban phenomenon that deserted many downtowns during the post-war years, only a handful remain intact today, something residents and city leaders alike should remember when major changes are proposed.

In 1974, Mr. Ruhnau was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Inland Chapter of the AIA this past April.

Related

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2006
Pedestrian Mall
riv-2006-dt-cityhall-046-450.jpg
2006
City Hall
riv-2006-dt-cityhall-005-450.jpg
2006
City Hall
ruhnau-riv-1970s-county-02a-450.jpg
@1973
Riv. Co. Admin
Rhunau
ruhnau-riv-1976-county-01a-450.jpg
@1976
Riv. Co. Admin
Rhunau

Sources: City of Riverside, Riverside Public Library, Rhunau Ruhnau Clarke, The Press-Enterprise, Los Angeles Times

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Civic Structures category from July 2006.

Civic Structures: June 2006 is the previous archive.

Civic Structures: May 2007 is the next archive.

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