John Desmond

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John Jacob Desmond
Born (1922-04-05)April 5, 1922
Denver, Colorado, USA
Died March 25, 2008(2008-03-25) (aged 85)
Zachary, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana
Resting place
Resthaven Memorial Gardens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Residence Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Occupation Architect
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s)

(1) Ella Blanche Russell Desmond (deceased)

(2) Nell Lentz-Desmond
Children

John Michael Desmond
James Russell Desmond
Margaret Desmond Dahm
Four stepchildren:
Sharon Elizabeth Lentz Moran
and Jan Susan Lentz
Paul Stephen Lentz

David Merrill Lentz

John Jacob Desmond (April 5, 1922 – March 27, 2008) was an American architect in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who designed such public buildings as the Baton Rouge River Center, the Louisiana State University Student Union, Bluebonnet Swamp Interpretive Center, Louisiana Arts and Sciences Center, Louisiana State Archives, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State Library, and the Louisiana Naval Museum. He also designed the United States Embassy building in Monrovia, Liberia, the Lindy Boggs Center (named for former U.S. Representative Corrine "Lindy" Boggs) at his own alma mater, Tulane University in New Orleans, and the cafeteria at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, the principal city of Tangipahoa Parish.[1]

Desmond and his firm, Desmond, Miremont & Burks, later John Desmond and Associates,[2] also designed numerous churches, including Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Hammond and St. Joseph's Cathedral, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge,[3] Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church (his own congregation), and the Catholic Life Center, all in Baton Rouge.[4]

Early years, education, military[edit]

Desmond was born in Denver, Colorado, to Timothy J. Desmond and the former Rose Isabelle Dvorak (1886–1982),[5] but he lived most of his life in Hammond and Baton Rouge. He graduated from Hammond High School in 1937 and thereafter procured his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Tulane. He obtained a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where he studied under the American Institute of Architects gold medal winners William Wurster and Alvar Aalto, a native of Finland.[6]

During World War II, Desmond served in the United States Navy as an ensign aboard the destroyer USS Madison (DD-425), which escorted convoys across the Atlantic. He saw action in the Battle of Anzio, Italy, in the Mediterranean. After the war, upon finishing his education, he worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York City, architect A. Hays Town in Baton Rouge, and for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1953, he returned to Hammond to open the first architectural practice in the Florida Parishes of southeastern Louisiana. He was the Tangipahoa Parish School Board architect for some twenty years.[6]

Excellence in architecture[edit]

Allen Eskew, a New Orleans architect who was influenced by Desmond's style, told the reporter Jeremy Harper of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate that Desmond was "really one of the giants of midcentury modern Louisiana architecture."[4] He could incorporate early Acadian design elements into modern structures. His pen-and-ink drawings have been exhibited across the nation and published internationally. He received a "Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana chapter of the AIA. Desmond's firm held offices in Hammond and Baton Rouge until the 1970s, when he worked exclusively out of Baton Rouge. He also taught architecture at Tulane, LSU, and historically black Southern University in Baton Rouge. His drawings and photographs have been featured in numerous national and international magazines and have been exhibited in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and New York City.[7] His work is featured in his book, Louisiana’s Antebellum Architecture, published in 1970 by Claitor's in Baton Rouge.[8]

In 1986, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana awarded Desmond its most prestigious honor, the Preservation Award, which he received for focusing upon awareness of the past through his work as a preservationist and for his historically-influenced modern designs. Desmond was described as both "talented and generous-spirited." Eskew, one of the designers of the award-winning Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge, noted how Desmond was able to weave a "large building masterfully in a canopy of existing mature oaks" in the establishment of the LSU Student Union.[4]

Desmond was a fellow in the A.I.A. for "Significant Contribution to Design".[9] He was "Outstanding Alumnus" of the Tulane School of Architecture. He was cited for "Excellence in the Arts" by the Arts Council of the Mayor-President, combined Baton Rouge municipal and East Baton Rouge Parish office.[7] His professional papers and drawings (1954–2003) are held in the archives at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library.[10]

Death[edit]

Desmond, who was retired, died at Lane Memorial Hospital in Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish. He was survived by his second wife, Nell Lentz-Desmond; a brother Gerald Desmond of Fremont, California; three children, John Michael Desmond (born January 1953) of Baton Rouge, James Russell Desmond (born October 1955) of New Orleans, and Margaret Desmond Dahm (born ca. 1960) of Asheville, North Carolina, and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife and the mother of his children, the former Ella Blanche Russell of Magnolia in Pike County in southwestern Mississippi, and a sister, Eileen Desmond Kahn (1923–2002) of Wilmington, Delaware. He also had two stepdaughters, Sharon Elizabeth Lentz Moran and Jan Susan Lentz, both of Baton Rouge, and two stepsons, Paul Stephen Lentz (born December 1959) of Walker in Livingston Parish, and David Merrill Lentz (born June 1962) of Denham Springs, also in Livingston Parish. He had four grandchildren and five step-grandchildren. A mass of Christian burial was celebrated on March 31, 2008, at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. Interment followed in Resthaven Gardens of Memory on the Old Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge.[7]

Desmond's death came four months after the passing of another Louisiana architect, Hugh G. Parker, Jr., of Bastrop. Having overcome childhood polio, Parker in a 45-year career, designed such structures as the 16-story Wyly Tower of Learning at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, the Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau, the football and baseball stadiums of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Bastrop City Hall, and numerous churches and school buildings.[11]

References[edit]