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Obituary
Vernon DeMars

03 June 2005


Vernon DeMars
Vernon DeMars, professor emeritus of architecture and a co-designer of both Wurster Hall (home of the College of Environmental Design) and the campus's student-center complex, died April 29 following a stroke. He was 97.

The student-center complex — including Eshleman and Zellerbach Halls, Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union, Cesar E. Chavez Student Center, and Upper and Lower Sproul Plazas — was designed by DeMars and his colleague Donald Hardison, along with landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, in 1959.

In 1978, DeMars and Hardison received the Award of Honor for Design Excellence from the Bay Area chapters of the American Institute of Architects, which saluted the Zellerbach Hall/student-center-area design for being" in the tradition of the great European urban plazas and spaces."

DeMars' studies, in the Beaux Arts tradition, began just as John Galen Howard retired as campus architect and head of Berkeley's architecture department. DeMars earned a bachelor's degree in architecture at Berkeley in 1931. During World War II he served as chief of the housing-standards section of the National Housing Agency, collaborating on low-income housing for migrant farm workers in the western states. He also helped design rural housing, schools, clinics, temporary housing for war workers, dormitories and community centers.

In the 1950s he helped to design Easter Hill Village, a public-housing project in Richmond that was considered cutting-edge for its mix of subsidized and market-rate housing. DeMars also designed the Golden Gateway Redevelopment Project along San Francisco's Embarcadero, Capitol Towers apartments in downtown Sacramento, and Mililani, Oahu's first planned community.

DeMars and William Wurster, dean of Berkeley's architecture school, were instrumental in establishing the College of Environmental Design, the first in the country to bring together the various design professions — architecture, city and regional planning, and landscape architecture — under one aegis. DeMars contributed to Wurster's namesake hall, a Brutalist structure — one of the campus's best-known buildings — that now houses the college they helped found.

Upon his retirement in 1975, DeMars received the Berkeley Citation, the campus's top honor.

DeMars leaves no immediate family. A campus memorial service will be announced later. Contributions in his memory can be made to the The College of Environmental Design with a note in the memo line: "In honor of Vernon DeMars." Checks can be sent to Lawrence Lawler, College Relations, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley, 235 Wurster Hall, MC 1820, Berkeley, CA 94720-1820.

— Kathleen Maclay