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Urban planning and environmental design pioneer, Francis J. Violich, dead at 94

Urban planning and environmental design pioneer, Francis J. Violich, dead at 94

Urban planning and environmental design pioneer, Francis J. Violich, dead at 94
Bill Wallace, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
August 28, 2005

Francis J. Violich, a professor emeritus of city planning and landscape architecture at the UC Berkeley and one of the founders of UC’s Department of Environmental Design, died Saturday at his home in Berkeley. He was 94.

Professor Violich did pioneering work in urban planning and in the 1940s and 1950s was a founding member of Telesis, an environmental group that promoted principles of city planning and urban design that were rooted in the social activism of the New Deal.

He was born in San Francisco in 1911 and attended public schools in San Francisco, graduating from Lowell High. He attended UC Berkeley in the 1930s and then did graduate work at Harvard and MIT.

Professor Violich developed an early fascination with design and landscape that turned into a lifelong study of how to develop urban spaces that would help resolve problems of social inequity.

As he told journalist Vladimir Goss in a 1998 interview, “Growing up in San Francisco meant living with a great variety of environments — bridges, sand dunes, parks.

“My mother took to gardening, and I became interested in landscape architecture. She had a wonderful eye for design, and she kept constantly remodeling our house. I picked up a feeling about what the city was like, and all this decided the course of my studies.”

When he finished his postgraduate work in Massachusetts, he borrowed $500 from his mother and made the first of several visits to Dalmatia, the land his father had immigrated from in 1889.

He spent 1941 and 1942 studying planning methods and urban problems in Latin America under a foundation grant.

His visits to both regions were the starting points of three seminal works on urban planning, “Cities in Latin America: Planning and Housing to the South,” in 1944, “Urban Planning for Latin America: the Challenge for Metropolitan Growth,” in 1987 and “The Bridge to Dalmatia: A Search for the Meaning of Place,” in 1998.

Professor Violich’s two-year Latin American sojourn was significant for another reason: it was when he met and married Mariantonia Sanabria of Caracas, Venezuela. The couple would remain together until she died in 1989.

While a student at Cal, Professor Violich became friends with T.J. Kent, another pioneering figure in urban planning. The two men were founding members of Telesis, an organization that tried to integrate principles of social activism associated with the New Deal into new approaches to city planning in order to break down social inequities.

Telesis gave impetus to the adoption of San Francisco’s first Master Plan in the early 1940s, and it had major influence on many key urban planning decisions in the city during the years after World War II.

Both men also ended up on the faculty at Cal. Together, they laid the groundwork for the creation of the university’s Department of City and Regional Planning in 1948 and the College of Environmental Design 10 years later.

In addition to his three major books on city planning, Professor Violich was the author of numerous articles dealing with urban design and landscape architecture.

His contributions have been widely recognized. In 1992, the American Institute of Planners designated him a National Planning Pioneer, and in 1999, the College of Environmental Design honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award.

Professor Violich is survived by his sister, Clementine Nelson of San Francisco, and by a brother, John of Marin County — one of the few living survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

He is also survived by three sons and two daughters: Antonio Violich of Watsonville, Frano Violich of Boston, Mario Violich of Venice (Los Angeles County), Carmen Violich Goodin of Berkeley and Francesca Violich Arango of Coconut Grove, Fla.

A private service has been held. A public memorial, possibly to be held in October, is being planned.

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