John Parkinson (1861-1935)
Born in 1861 in Scorton, Northern England, Parkinson got his start in architecture by apprenticing in the stair-building and construction trades while going to school at night to study engineering and drafting.
His first journey to California brought him to the San Francisco Bay, where he designed the Bank of Napa Building in 1891. After a brief stint in Seattle, Washington, as the School Board Architect (1891-94) and head of his own firm, Parkinson returned to California, arriving in Los Angeles in 1894.
He opened his own firm on Spring Street between Second and Fourth Streets, in what is now downtown L.A.’s historic core. The firm’s early work includes several pivotal buildings in downtown’s history: the city’s first Class A steel-frame building, the Homer Laughlin Building (1897); the Braly Block (1902), considered by many to be L.A.’s first skyscraper; and the city’s then-largest hotel, the Rosslyn Hotel (1914, annex 1923).
Either individually or in partnership, John Parkinson participated in the design of twenty-one buildings on downtown’s Spring Street alone. Most of them still stand today, including all four buildings at the intersection of Spring and Fifth Streets, now known as John Parkinson Square.
Some of the most well-known works of John Parkinson in Los Angeles include the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (1921) and participating with others to design Los Angeles City Hall (1928) and Union Station (1939). These projects attest to the significant impact he made on the landscape of the region during his forty-year practice in Los Angeles.
This selection of work also reflects the stylistic developments and changes found throughout region. Beaux Arts classicism, marked by order and discipline, would soon give way to the emerging Moderne and Art Deco styles. The firm’s shift in its design direction can be attributed to John’s son Donald, who joined his father after graduating from MIT in 1920. The father-and-son duo’s mastery of style, form, and function is perhaps best exemplified in the 1929 Bullocks Wilshire building, an Art Deco masterpiece and beloved Los Angeles landmark.
John Parkinson was a member of the city-appointed Municipal Art Commission, which drafted a new building code for the city in 1903, and the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects from 1904 to 1905.
John Parkinson died in Los Angeles in 1935. That same year he published Incidents by the Way, a collection of his memoirs that looked back on his life and his many accomplishments.
Donald took control of the firm until his death in 1945. The firm continued to evolve over the years, known as Parkinson-Powelson-Briney-Bernard-Woodford and Parkinson Field Associates (among other names).