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New architecture gifts build on a poignant history

Allison Engelby Allison Engel
At Patrick Martin'€™s 2002 wedding, Martin family members who studied at the USC School of Architecture, from left: Albert C. Martin Jr., David Martin, Danielle Martin, Patrick Martin, Chris Martin and J. Edward Martin
At Patrick Martin'€™s 2002 wedding, Martin family members who studied at the USC School of Architecture, from left: Albert C. Martin Jr., David Martin, Danielle Martin, Patrick Martin, Chris Martin and J. Edward Martin

Patrick Martin ’00, a graduate of the USC School of Architecture, was a hands-on designer and builder whose brain continually sparked with new ideas. A natural leader, he collected friends of all backgrounds, occupations and ages. His own interests were equally varied, from experimental aircraft to forestry management.

Patrick had boundless enthusiasm for life, which made it all the more heartbreaking when he died of cancer in early 2012 at the age of 35, leaving his wife, Danielle Halter Martin ’00, and two young sons, Thomas and William, who inherited their parents’ knack for taking things apart and rebuilding them.

More than 1,200 people went to the memorial service, and the variety of mourners was a reflection of how widely Patrick was known and admired. There were executives from the Los Angeles business community, general contractors, politicians and colleagues from his family’s firm, AC Martin Partners, founded by Patrick’s great-grandfather, Albert C. Martin Sr., 107 years ago.

USC friends flew in from Illinois, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin. Workers in the timber industry attended the service, as well as employees and board members of the historic ranch in the Sierra Nevada he helped run.

USC President C. L. Max Nikias attended, along with USC Trustee Yang Ho Cho, architecture Dean Qingyun Ma and others from the school, reflecting the deep ties between USC, the Martin firm and the many Martin family members who studied architecture here. The latter group included Albert C. Martin Jr. ’36, Patrick’s grandfather J. Edward Martin, Patrick’s father Chris Martin ’74 and Chris’ cousin David Martin ’66. Chris Martin is the co-chairman and CEO of AC Martin Partners. David Martin, co-chairman and design principal of the firm, also teaches at the School of Architecture. Both men sit on the school’s Board of Councilors and are recipients of the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Patrick was a very special member of the school and its community,” Ma said. “The family history at the USC School of Architecture is deep and strong.”

Sizable memorial contributions were made to the School of Architecture and the University of California, Los Angeles, oncology practice that treated the young architect. But in the months that followed, his wife and father mulled over other ways to memorialize him.

They recalled Patrick’s time spent studying in Italy and how significant it was to him. Both Danielle and Patrick spent half of their junior year in Italy, and it was a life-changing experience for both, she said.

“The things I learned about architectural history didn’t gel until I walked into those piazzas and saw those cobblestone streets,” Danielle said. “The pace of life, the experience of urbanism — it affects how you think of public space forever.”

The two, who met during their freshman year, began dating during their sophomore year and married after graduation, had planned their study abroad semester carefully to include unlimited train travel throughout Europe on breaks and weekends. Patrick carried train schedules with him at all times, the better to explore another city at a moment’s notice.

The students who weren’t as lucky to afford unlimited train travel had a hobbled experience, Danielle said.

“Often, our travel experiences were unexpected,” she said. “We might have an unscheduled stop and happen upon the most amazing building.”

When the Martins returned to USC, they were reinvigorated in their architectural studies.

“Professors always said they could tell who had studied overseas,” Danielle said, “because in our projects we were all adding piazzas and wider walkways and areas to sit and have coffee.”

Chris Martin said that overseas study provides a useful break to students in their third and fourth years when they might be getting burned out and questioning their commitment to architecture.

“You give them that physical break from campus, and it rededicates them,” he said. “It seems that this is a time when an architect blossoms. So we said let’s take that experience and do something.”

Chris and his wife, Jeanette, decided to add to the money given in his son’s name to the School of Architecture to create an endowment fund, The Patrick Martin Memorial Travel Fellowship, to help architecture students who want to study internationally.

David Martin, who received his master’s in architecture degree from Columbia University, was also deeply influenced by oversees travel during his student days. He received a fellowship from Columbia that allowed him to travel for four months to Africa, India, Iran and Jordan. He traveled solo with a backpack and several cameras, photographing urban spaces — some which no longer exist.

“You’ll see a square in Morocco and another in India, and wonder — what do these public spaces have in common?” he said. “A historic part of architecture has always been the grand tour. For students, the experience is life-changing.”

David and his wife, Mary Klaus Martin, were looking for a way to support the School of Architecture, and when Danielle mentioned the fellowship, it provided them with the perfect opportunity. They decided to donate $100,000 to Patrick’s travel fellowship.

All the Martins said that Patrick would be enthusiastic about helping others to have richer, fuller experiences. In his own life, he had never uttered the words “I am bored.”

When he was still in his early teens, Patrick was the construction foreman for log cabins and power systems installed on the nearly 100-year-old Yosemite Mountain Ranch in the Sierra Nevada. Later, he became an officer and board member of the ranch, immersing himself in forestry management and preservation of its 3,600 acres.

Patrick was also besotted with flight and graduated from building hundreds of model airplanes as a youngster to constructing a high-performance, experimental four-seat aircraft with his father. Despite their work and school commitments, the two completed the plane in three years — at the same time they were studying for a pilot’s license.

While becoming a licensed architect, a LEED Accredited Professional, an associate at AC Martin, a force in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the USC Architectural Guild, Patrick continued family building projects (log cabins, race cars, jeeps) with his two siblings and parents. When he and Danielle bought a house, he designed a solar system and became a licensed reseller of solar panels so he could install them himself.

What made Patrick happy, his father and wife said, was to spend Friday evenings walking the aisles at Home Depot, looking for tools and parts for projects current and imagined. (His father observed that building the airplane “might have been just an excuse to buy cool pneumatic tools.”)

At work, Chris Martin had a firsthand view of his son’s creativity, as Patrick would pop into his father’s office multiple times each day, beginning each conversation the same way: “I’ve got a new idea.”

“With Patrick, ideas had consequences,” his father said.

And with these two gifts creating a healthy traveling fellowship, there will be consequences — good and useful ones — for years to come.

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