John Edward Powell has taught and worked in the field of architectural history and historic preservation in Central California since 1977. A graduate of Stanford University, Powell received an A.B. in art and design, with a secondary emphasis in history and architectural history, in 1969. As an undergraduate he was accepted to the Stanford Overseas Campus Program in Great Britain, where he studied architectural history, comparative politics and Shakespeare. A recipient of a Harley J. Earl Design Fund graduate fellowship at Stanford in 1970, Powell began his graduate studies in graphic design, drawing and stone lithography. He continued graduate work in drawing in 1972 at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. In 1973, he accepted an appointment to co-instruct basic design in the College of Architecture at the University of Idaho, Moscow, where he completed a Master of Arts (painting and history of design) in 1974. From 1987-1998, Powell maintained a professional affiliation as a consulting architectural historian on government-funded environmental research projects through the California State University, Fresno Foundation. During the summer of 1992, he took a leave of absence to complete advanced work in serigraphy at the Haystack Mountain School, Deer Isle, Maine. While on sabbatical on California's central coast in 1995, Powell completed a short monograph on pioneer architect Henry F. Starbuck (1850-1935).
As adjunct faculty, he has taught American architectural history and historic preservation at Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno, organizing community building surveys of North Van Ness Boulevard, the Porter Tract and the Kerckhoff Avenue Craftsman Bungalow District as course projects. In 1988, Powell designed a research program and field-study questionnaire as a community service in support of the Survey Report of Old Fig Garden Homes, conducted under his co-coordination by a local women's organization. Over five hundred Fresno residences have been historically profiled in these community surveys.
During his tenure in Fresno, Powell delivered over forty formal lectures to community organizations and service clubs, as well as presentations to state and national architecture and preservation organizations, on the subject of historic architecture in the Central San Joaquin Valley. In 1986, he was granted access by the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University to prepare the preliminary index of the Ernest J. Kump Architectural Papers. In all, he has indexed nine architectural drawing collections comprising over six thousand documents for donation to or conservation in regional and university archives. Powell has compiled a personal library documenting the careers and work of over three hundred Central Valley architects, and maintains a vertically-integrated database of regional architectural news sources for the years 1870-1950.
In Fresno, his community service contributions have included historic research for St. John's Catholic Cathedral, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, the Japanese Industrial Bank Building, a Julia Morgan-designed YWCA, the City of Fresno (Chinatown Survey, North Van Ness Boulevard Survey and the L Street Historic District), and the Fresno City and County Historical Society (Civic Center and Tower District walking tour maps; twin historic textile replication projects; and the design for mechanical system enclosures for the M. Theo Kearney Mansion, owned by the University of California, Berkeley, and administered by the Historical Society; and the 1994 Historic Preservation Week walking tour of early Modern style residences designed by Franklin & Kump Architects between 1935 and 1942 in the Old Figarden District).
Powell's research on and exhibitions of Central Valley historic architectural drawings have been supported by grants for individuals from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987), the College of Fellows Fund of the American Architectural Foundation (1989) and the Leon S. Peters Foundation (1989). In 1987, Powell received an Electronic Media Grant in association with the San Joaquin Chapter, American Institute of Architects from the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., to write, produce and art-direct Valley by Design, the regional PBS television documentary sequel to the nationally broadcast America by Design. His research has placed eight San Joaquin Valley properties in the National Register of Historic Places. As a design consultant, his historic rehabilitation projects in Fresno have included two national award-winning buildings (the Downtown Club in the Fresno Republican Printery Building, and the Tower Theatre) and a U.S. Department of the Interior National Preservation Case Study project (the Physicians Building). Powell received the annual Historic Preservation Service Award from the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, Sacramento, in 1990. In 1994, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Fresno City and County Historical Society and an Award of Recognition for Distinguished Service from the California State Legislature Assembly for his dedication and commitment to Historic Preservation.
As staff architectural consultant and project coordinator for attorney and real estate developer Robert N. Klein II, Powell supervised the certified historic rehabilitations of the Physicians Building and the Fresno Republican Printery, and functioned as on-site liaison between investors, architects, engineers, handicapped review agencies, contractors and prospective tenants. His project management responsibilities included preparing cost estimates; producing preliminary budgets; processing change orders; supervising the restoration of specialized building components, including architectural skylights, fixtures, hardware and furnishings; cataloguing artifacts for appraisal and long-term museum conservation; negotiating pre-rehabilitation agreements with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the State Office of Historic Preservation; and assembling final federal investment tax credit (ITC) certification applications.
Powell performed parallel tasks on the Tower Theatre, and co-authored the initial feasibility study calling for the historic rehabilitation of this Moderne-style Fresno cinema. He later personally prepared full-scale shop drawings for the replication of the theatre's ceiling murals and hand-painted entry ornamentation, originally executed by famed, Los Angeles-based Heinsbergen Studios in 1939. In all, Powell has successfully secured ITC credits for over $3 million in certified historic rehabilitation contracts for property owners and investment partnerships.
Powell's professional historical survey experience has included the preparation of eighty-three architectural evaluations for the Route 168 Urban Project in Fresno, the 500-building Northern Division/West End District in Bakersfield, and detailed appraisals of Blackburn's Migrant Camp and the Lost Hills Oil Field in rural Kern County, all prepared for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) under the auspices of the CSUF Foundation. In 1994, he completed the 2,490-property Supplementary Historic Building Survey for the City of Fresno. Powell is certified as an architectural historian by the Environmental Analysis Division, Caltrans, Sacramento, under Federal Register 48:190, U.S. Department of the Interior. His professional associations have included membership in the Society of Architectural Historians, Chicago (1983-1998); the Society of Architectural Historians, Southern California Chapter, Los Angeles; and the California Preservation Foundation.
With Kevin Enns-Rempel, Powell helped develop A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California, a web site documenting historic architecture in central California. His biographical research begun during the winter of 1998, on Anderson Island, Washington, focused on the second-generation pioneer architecture firm of Bowen & Davis, and early modernist Paul C. Overmire California architects who initially migrated from the Pacific Northwest. Powell then assembled data for a forensic analysis of early 20th-century building stock in Merced, California, for Seattle attorney Thomas A. Pedreira. Completed in Seattle, the core Merced study was an assessment of Depression-era Moderne and seminal Modernistic building trends. Powell has also continued his detailed survey of the architectural development of West Fresno's Kearney Boulevard Heights District for the historic period 1910-1950, and research on historically significant architects of the southern Central Valley. From 2000 until 2006 Powell worked as a substitute instructor in the studio art and art history program at Bakersfield College, and served as interim art gallery director one term.
In 2003, Powell presented a formal paper entitled, "From World's Fair to Subdivision: Influences of Exposition Design and Ethnicity on the San Joaquin Valley Landscape," at the federally-funded conference "Ethnicity, Community and Historic Preservation in the Central San Joaquin Valley," sponsored by the City of Fresno, with a grant administered by the California Office of Historic Preservation. Following that presentation, he was requested by the Fresno County Library to prepare a biographical profile on the work and career of architectural designer Henry P. Villalon (1894-1984). The latter pro-bono study was completed in August 2004, and received a Governor's Historic Preservation Award for scholarly research in November 2005.
During 2010, Powell completed five pro-bono projects in Bakersfield, including studies of Depression-era Kern County adobes for the Kern River Parkway Foundation, the East Bakersfield Cornet Store, the East Bakersfield Southern Pacific Depot, the Garnsey Road and Kern Woods California Ranch-style historic districts, and major contributions to a landmark study of the historic Kern County Union High School campus. In 2016, his all-volunteer, research-based project completed with Bram Livingston and Konstine Shaw, conserving the historic Beverly Hills architectural drawing collection of John P. Pedersen, AIA, received a Governors Award in Historic Preservation from the California State Office of Historic Preservation.
Portrait of John Edward Powell by Chalita Brossett Robinson, New Orleans, LA. Used by permission.