J. Carson Bowler
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 5:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.
When you walk into a house designed by J. Carson Bowler, you know it, his friends said.
Big, open main rooms; few interior walls; small, galley-like kitchens; windows that recall those on a ship's bridge; exposed pilings and posts like a dock; and bare redwood, inside and out, create an effect that echoes the ships and wharves of his beloved Sonoma Coast.
Bowler died Feb. 4 at his home in Laguna Beach. Before retiring, he spent most of his life on and around the Sonoma Coast, working out of his house high on the bluffs over Bodega Bay.
“He woke up every single day with that ocean view,” friend and real estate broker Scott Adams said Monday. “I don't know if that can help but influence your architectural style.”
Bowler, 81, died after a brief period of illness, friends said. He designed residential and commercial buildings throughout the North Coast and as far north as Oregon.
“He was always thinking about the coastal environment, about how a building would fit there,” said longtime friend Doug Murray, a Sebastopol-based architect.
His buildings “were like pieces of sculpture that someone would do in that spot if it were not a house,” Murray said.
Real estate agent George Capone, who has handled the sale of many Bowler-designed buildings, agreed.
“His architecture reflected the Sonoma Coast,” he said. “He took advantage of that to bring the views inside.”
Bowler designed many of the houses at The Sea Ranch. He is also responsible for several of the signature commercial buildings in Bodega Bay, including the Lucas Wharf Restaurant, The Inn at the Tides, Pelican Plaza, and The Yacht Harbor Clubhouse.
He also designed Bodega Bay's post office, which is nestled into a hill below Highway 1, designed not to block the view from the iconic road. He went so far as to add a sod roof, making it difficult for passing motorists to tell that there is even a building there.
The post office “is a good example of the kind of architect Carson was not,” Murray said. “He was not a grandstanding architect.”
Personally, Bowler was quiet, professional and unassuming, friends said.
“He enjoyed a good laugh; enjoyed going to parties,” said Adams, who had known the architect since the mid-1960s. “He was very intelligent and soft-spoken.”
Bowler liked to design houses the way he lived himself. Adams said a typical Bowler house was similar to the architect's own place on the bluffs. He favored idiosyncratic, open designs, to the point of creating master bedrooms that had no walls at all and were wide open to the rest of the house. Yet he favored small kitchens that tended to be tucked away.
“He and Patti didn't cook,” Adams explained. “They ate most of their meals out.”
Bowler's Bodega Bay house is still standing, but it is unoccupied. It is one of several houses high above Gleason Beach that are in danger of falling down as the bluffs suffer blows from winter storms. A potential buyer had stepped forward with a plan to move the house to a safer location, Murray said, but before his death Bowler warned that the home was anchored too deeply into the cliff to be removed.
Bowler was born Sept. 6, 1931, in Pasadena. He graduated from the University of Oregon School of Architecture in 1955 and took at job in the San Francisco office of Clarence Mayhew. He moved to Bodega Bay in 1964 and formed a joint practice with architect John Cook in 1969. They remained business partners until Cook's death in 1999.
Bowler and wife Patti were married from 1953 until her death in 1992. He married Carol Olds in 1994; the couple moved to Laguna Beach after his retirement in 2005.
He is survived by his wife; brother Doug Bowler and sister Marilyn Johnson, both of Laguna Beach; stepchildren Jeffrey Olds and Michelle Kovarik; and several grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
A memorial service is planned in Northern California sometime this spring, but the family is still working out details, Murray said. Bowler was buried at sea off Southern California, he said.
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