La Jolla mourns the passing of famed architect Robert Mosher


Robert Mosher, the last of San Diego’s first generation of post-war modern architects, died of natural causes at age 94 on July 26, at his apartment in La Jolla.

“His view of modernism was much more about the quality of the human spirit,” said Larry Hoeksema, principal and former president of Architects Mosher Drew, the firm Mosher founded with business partner Roy Drew in San Diego in 1948. “The human element and how people interact and move through and around (a building) was something they were very much concerned about.”

He and Drew met when they joined a firm in Los Angeles as draftsmen, then moved to San Diego, where Mosher had convinced his father to buy the Green Dragon Colony buildings on Prospect Street in 1944 for $50,000. That property would cause Mosher untold grief decades later.

The iconic Coronado Bridge that opened in 1969 represents Mosher’s most visible imprint on the local architectural landscape.

He designed an early version of UCSD’s La Jolla Playhouse and cofounded the La Jolla Town Council and La Jollans Inc.

His commissions included the Golden Door spa near Escondido that opened in 1958. Its design was inspired by a field trip Mosher took with developer Deborah Szekely to Japan to gather ideas from 16th and 17th century inns where the serene atmosphere calms visitors.

He also dipped into historical architecture with his 1965 design for the west wing of the San Diego Museum of Art, where the columns are a modern takeoff on the Spanish Colonial revival architecture used for Balboa Park’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

A similarly inspired approach was taken at San Diego State University’s Aztec Center, recently replaced by a bigger student union.

When the La Jolla Museum of Art, now the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, wanted to expand, Mosher oversaw additions to the original building that was designed by Irving Gill as a home for Ellen Browning Scripps.

In the 1980s, Mosher battled preservationists over hotel plans for the Green Dragon Colony complex, a one-time vacation getaway for early 20th century artists and writers that he had remodeled years before. Four original cottages were eventually demolished with the consent of the California Coastal Commission. Offices, shops and restaurants operate in the complex today.

Other Mosher projects include the NBC Building next to Horton Plaza shopping center, numerous private homes, banks, churches and a home office for Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.

Mosher used to join other buddies — all named Bob — at weekly lunches at the UCSD Faculty Club, which he designed.

Mosher was born Sept. 27, 1920, in Greeley, Colorado to Jack and Alice Mosher. The family moved to Los Angeles and first visited San Diego in 1925.

His brother Larry, a Copley Press correspondent, was born in 1929.

According to Mosher’s wife, Joany, Robert first learned about architecture at age 9 from a neighbor involved in Pasadena development. He was educated at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and the University of Washington and served briefly in the Army during World War II before he was discharged because of asthma problems.

San Diego in the late-1940s was on the cusp of a second growth spurt, following the wartime boom years. “We got more work and just chugged away at it,” Mosher recalled in 1988.

Mosher is survived by his wife, Joany, son Stephen of Eugene, Oregon and daughter Karen of Las Vegas, from two previous marriages, a granddaughter, and a brother, Larry, of Colorado.

The family suggests donations to the UCSD Cancer Center and the Museum of Photographic Arts.