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In memoriam: architect MacDonald Becket, 89

The USC School of Architecture alumnus was a driving force in the development of Los Angeles

Macdonald Becket and Welton Becket
Welton Becket, left, and nephew MacDonald Becket display the model for Northrop Grumman headquarters in Century City. (Photo/Courtesy of WBA)

MacDonald Becket ’52, former chairman of the board and CEO of the architecture firm Welton Becket and Associates, died in Phoenix, Ariz. He was 89.

Becket, who graduated from the USC School of Architecture, was a driving force in the development of architecture in Los Angeles. Two of his major roles in California were coordinating the master planning and architectural implementations of the 260-acre Century City project and in the successful renovation of the state capitol building in Sacramento.

Becket became president of Welton Becket and Associates in 1969, and under his leadership, the firm became significant for its corporate and institutional architecture with multiple offices in the United States and around the world.

He was instrumental in the design of projects such as the Washington, D.C., Convention Center, Terminal 1 at the Los Angeles International Airport, Barclays Bank International in New York City, the Federal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles, the redevelopment of the Boston Commons, Xerox Square in Rochester, N.Y., the Hyatt Regency Dallas and adjacent Reunion Tower, and the Valley National Bank (now Chase Bank) in downtown Phoenix, still the tallest building in Arizona.

Becket also expanded the firm’s development, investment and international roles resulting in unprecedented joint ventures in the People’s Republic of China with the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing and the World Trade Center in Moscow. He was the first American architect to do a major building in China. Five large projects for the Samsung Corp. in Seoul, South Korea, were also accomplished under his direction.

Presidential places

The firm merged in 1987 with Ellerbe Inc. to form Ellerbe Becket, once the largest architectural firm in the United States. In 2009, AECOM Technology purchased Ellerbe Becket. Before the merger, Becket oversaw a staff of 300 architects, planners, engineers, interior designers, space planners and programmers, and allied specialists offering comprehensive total design services on a worldwide basis. The company’s archives are in the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

In addition, Becket designed and completed personal homes for former United States presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, as well as for J.C. Hall, owner and president of Hallmark Cards.

A fellow of the American Institute of Architects (the profession’s highest distinction), Becket first served as a member and then chairman of the institute’s Documents Review Board and was on numerous architectural awards juries across the nation. He was appointed to the board of directors of the National Institute of Building Sciences by President Ronald Reagan and served as its chairman. He was on the board of directors of the Unocal Corp. from 1988 to 1997.

Becket was active professionally outside his office as well. For 16 years, he was consul general of Sri Lanka and a senior member of the consular corps in Los Angeles. He served as a founding member of the Los Angeles Cultural Commission and is a former co-chairman.

Arts and architecture

A leader in promoting architecture and the arts, Becket was a founding contributor of the Architectural and Design Endowment for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and was a member of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Pops Symphony Orchestra.

Becket’s contributions to Los Angeles’s humanitarian progress were recognized by the city’s Human Relations Commission, which presented him with its prestigious Bicentennial Award. He was honored by the City of Hope in 1972 with a diabetes research fellowship dedicated in his name. The Century City Civic Council named him the 1973 Citizen of the Year. In 1982, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects honored Becket and the 50th anniversary of Welton Becket and Associates.

The firm sponsored five annual scholarships at the USC School of Architecture, where Becket was founder and chairman of the dean’s advisory council (now known as the School of Architecture’s Board of Councilors) for 15 years. During the 1980s and early 1990s, he actively led a project for physical improvements at the school. In the spring of 1994, the MacDonald Becket Center opened, along with a remodeled workshop, new landscaping and courtyard improvements, and a student-centered café. For his service to the university and his outstanding professional career, Becket was awarded the USC Alumni Merit Award in 1993. In 2007, he was inducted into the Half Century Trojans Hall of Fame at USC.

Becket is survived by his wife, Diane, of 35 years; his sister, Jacquelin Hart; four sons (MacDonald Jr., Thomas, Michael and David); nine grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.

In lieu of flowers, you can contribute to the USC School of Architecture MacDonald Becket Scholarship Fund.

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In memoriam: architect MacDonald Becket, 89

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