Skidmore, Owings & Merrill | Los Angeles Conservancy

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)

The work of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) represents some of the finest design achievements of the Modern era. Established in 1936, SOM is now one of the largest and most prominent architecture, urban planning, and engineering firms in the world. It has completed some 10,000 projects in over fifty countries, including some of the tallest structures ever built. 

The founding partners of SOM were architects Louis Skidmore (1897-1962) and Nathaniel Owings (1903-1984), and John Merrill (1896-1975), who was both an architect and structural engineer. Originally just Skidmore and Owings, the firm welcomed Merrill after winning the contract to design the 1939 World’s Fair. The trio officially launched SOM in New York.

Born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Skidmore studied architecture at Bradley Polytechnic Institute and MIT. He served in the Army in World War I and was received the AIA Gold Medal Award in 1957.  

Owings was born in Indianapolis and graduated from Cornell in 1927; he received an AIA Gold Medal Award in 1983.  

Merrill was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He served as a captain in World War I and earned his architecture degree from MIT in 1921. Merrill also served in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1942-1946 and became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) in 1950.

In postwar America, SOM was a leader in promoting the International Style, creating glass-and-steel skyscrapers that have become veritable icons in Modern architecture.

SOM’s emergence into postwar Los Angeles was not in the form of a soaring structure but a relatively modest, yet influential, concrete-and-glass box. Completed in 1961, Great Western Savings Bank (now Chase Bank) in Gardena was a Modern pavilion that served as the prototype for the bank’s 1960s expansion and relocation plan.

In 1964, SOM fashioned a thirty-story office tower in downtown Los Angeles called One Wilshire, then the tallest building in the area. The firm would eventually design two skyscrapers for the downtown landscape: Wells Fargo Center (1983) and the Gas Company Tower (1991). SOM also designed the former Columbia Savings and Loan building in Beverly Hills (1989).

To date, SOM has received over 1,700 awards and is the only practice to twice receive the AIA’s Architecture Firm Award, the highest honor given by the AIA to a firm. SOM’s architectural impact on Los Angeles continues today, with recent projects including the new Federal courthouse and the renovation of the 1916 Desmond building downtown.

Great Western Savings
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Chase Bank, Gardena

Completed in 1961, the building was the prototype for all other Great Western Savings buildings and boasted an all-concrete design and walls made entirely of glass.
Photo by Michael Locke

Wells Fargo Center

A twist on the Corporate International "glass box" design, the towers, completed in 1983, have parallelogram-shaped bases with sharp angles soaring into the sky while trees, fountains, and rough-hewn granite give the atrium a park-like atmosphere.
Gas Company Tower
Photo by Annie Laskey/L.A. Conservancy

Gas Company Tower

The 1991 Gas Company Tower rises in a series of cliff-like setbacks and inverted corners, with an elliptical top of blue glass symbolizing the trademark blue flame of the building’s primary tenant