Biographies of Architects, Designers, and Builders

Henry P. Villalon (1894-1984)

Henry P. Villalon was born on March 5, 1894, in San Francisco, California. He appears to have taken his first entry-level job as a draftsman while still a teenager, in the office of architect Joseph Cahen. By 1913 he had begun organized studies in architecture as a member of the San Francisco Architectural Club, training principally under Loring P. Rixford. As Villalon was planning to depart for Paris to study at the École des Beaux Arts, his mother fell seriously ill, forcing him to abndon his formal educational goals in order to work to assist in her care.

Villalon's first major professional opportunity came during the planning and construction of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, when he was hired in 1914 to work for Cuban architect Francisco Javier Centurión y Maceo. Villalon rose to become one of Centurión's lead architectural draftsmen. By 1915 he had accepted a position as a draftsman for Richard W. Moller. Villalon continued working as a junior draftsman in San Francisco until 1918, when he relocated to Fresno to work in the office of Ernest J. Kump, Sr. Villalon returned to San Francisco in 1920. He entered the office of Alfred Henry Jacobs and later joined the firm of architect Carl Werner.

Following the 1929 stock market collapse, Villalon held a position with San Francisco architect George H. Weimeyer. A faltering national economy encouraged him to relocate to Los Angeles in about 1931. There he went to work for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture studio as a set designer. In 1934, Villalon was again recruited by Ernest J. Kump, Sr., to return to Fresno, where he would become a project designer for several high-profile Depression-era projects. The traditionally-trained Kump harbored disdain for the modernistic styles being promoted by the Public Works Administration during this period, and relinquished the task of designing the Fresno County Hall of Records to Villalon.

Soon after Villalon completed the Hall of Records drawings in early 1935, Kump's office secured a commission to design the unapologetically urbane Hart's Restaurant in downtown Fresno. In Villalon's hands, this downtown eatery became a dazzling display of colorful neon, glazed terra cotta tiles, and sleek polished aluminum. The loss of Hart's to an unsympathetic remodeling at the hands of absentee property owners ranks among the worst historic preservation tragedies in the city's history.

Following Kump's death in 1934, Villalon returned to San Francisco. He worked as a draftsman through much of World War II designing vessels for the United States Navy. By 1944 he had taken a position as a draftsman with Western Asbestos Company, an acoustical specialty firm. After the war Villalon returned yet again to Fresno to accept a position with Inland Showcase & Fixture Company in 1949. For the rest of his career, Villalon worked as the head of Inland's engineering department. The firm completed interior architectural contracts in Fresno for Bank of America, Gottschalks Department Store, Pardini's Restaurant, Patrick James Men's Store, Edmonds Jewelers, and Fig Garden Village. In 1976 the Woodwork Institute of California recognized Villalon's highly-crafted interiors for the Silver Dollar Hofbrau in Fresno.

Villalon died at age 90 in 1984 in Fresno, survived by an impressive catalogue of work produced over seven decades throughout California.

Written by John Edward Powell and William B. Secrest, Jr.
© 2011 John Edward Powell & William B. Secrest, Jr.