Bruce Alonzo Goff
June 8, 1904
Alton, Kansas, US
|Died||August 4, 1982 (aged 78)|
Tyler, Texas, US
|Awards||AIA Twenty-five Year Award (1987)|
Ruth VanSickle Ford House
Pavilion for Japanese Art
Glen Mitchell House
Bruce Alonzo Goff (June 8, 1904 - August 4, 1982) was an American architect, distinguished by his organic, eclectic, and often flamboyant designs for houses and other buildings in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
Bruce Goff's father, Corliss, the youngest of seven children born to a builder in Cameron, Missouri, who learned to be a watch repairman at an early age, and moved to Wakeeney, Kansas, where he opened his own watch repair business. One day a young schoolteacher named *** came in to have own watch repaired. Romance blossomed quickly and the two were married in 1903 at the home of her parents in Ellis, Kansas. Soon after marriage, the couple moved to the farm town of Alton, Kansas, where their son, Bruce, was born on June 8, 1904.
Life was still very difficult for the Goffs in Alton, so they moved south to what would become Tulsa, Oklahoma, (but was then Indian Territory.) At the end of the first summer, they moved to Henrietta, where Bruce's sister was born in 1906. Then they moved to Skiatook and Hominy, where he saw the Indians in ceremonial dress, and was very impressed with their patterns and color. He started school in Skiatook, where he was fascinated by a picture of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, his first real exposure to architecture, other than frontier structures. Later, after moving to Hominy, he began drawing fanciful pictures of such buildings on wrapping paper.[a]
Goff's family decided in 1913 to relocate to Denver, Colorado, where the father expected that his fortunes would change for the better. First, Corliss went ahead of the mother and children who stayed with her relatives in Ellis, Kansas. He bought a watch shop and opened for business. Meanwhile Bruce, displaying the talent of an artistic prodigy, learned to paint from nature [b] At the end of the summer, 1913, Corliss sent for the family to rejoin him in Denver. The economy did not favor his efforts, and Bruce later remembered going to bed hungry many nights, because his father could not afford enough food for the family. After a year and a half of constant struggle, Corliss realized that his fortune was not going to change there., p. 19-23.
Goff's parents decided to move back to Tulsa in 1915. Corliss had given up on the watchmaking business and became a grocery equipment salesman. Bruce was largely self-educated and displayed a great talent for drawing. He enrolled in the 6th Grade at Lincoln Elementary School, where his first art teacher, a Miss Brown, strongly supported his individualistic artistic expression., p. 18. [c] His father apprenticed him at age twelve to the Tulsa architectural firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush.[d] Goff's employers were impressed with his talent; they soon gave him responsibility for designing houses and small commercial projects. One of his earliest designs that was actually built was a house at 1732 South Yorktown Avenue in Tulsa's Yorktown Historical District; another was the 1920 McGregor House, at 1401 South Quaker Street in what is now known as the Cherry Street District. This house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014., p. 29-30. During this period, his work was heavily influenced through his correspondence with Wright and with Louis Sullivan, both of whom had encouraged him to practice architecture with Rush, Endacott and Rush instead of enrolling in Massachusetts Institute of Technology; they felt the formal education would stifle his creativity. Goff was made a firm partner in 1930. He and his high-school art teacher Adah Robinson are co-credited with the design of Tulsa's Boston Avenue Methodist Church, one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States. Goff designed the Tulsa Club, downtown Tulsa's historic landmark, in 1927. 
In 1934 Goff moved to Chicago and began teaching part-time at the Academy of Fine Arts. He designed several Chicago-area residences and went to work for the manufacturer of "Vitrolite", an architectural sheet glass introduced during the 1930s.
In March 1942, three months after the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Goff enlisted in the U.S. Navy, Naval Construction Branch ("Seabees"). Called to active duty in July 1942, he underwent basic training, at first in Rhode Island and then at Gulfport, Mississippi. After graduating in September, he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (CPO) and posted to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where he spent 18 months. His design assignments were strictly conventional (e.g., a club house, a mess hall, an officers' club), limited by military regulations, availability of materials, cost, schedules, etc.), p. 29-30.
In March 1944, CPO Goff was ordered to report to Camp Parks, a naval complex in Dublin, California east of Oakland, for rehabilitation and reassignment (R & R). A senior officer, Admiral Reeves, who was familiar with Goff's work in Alaska, had Goff assigned to the base operations staff. Goff would remain there until he was discharged from the Navy in July 1945., p. 29-30.
In 1943, the Marine command had ordered a project to enlarge some service facilities for men stationed there and their civilian visitors (families). The project included remodeling eight existing buildings and constructing the newly-approved McCann Memorial Chapel. Captain James Wilson, Chief Engineering Officer of the base, assigned CPO Goff the job of designing all of the projects. He reminded Goff that the same restrictions he had experienced in Alaska would apply here., p. 29-30.
The chapel employed two surplus warehouse-type Quonset huts, each 40 feet (12 m) by 100 feet (30 m) and laid end-to-end, as the basic enclosure. A pylon, on which was mounted a two-sided cross, penetrated the hut wall behind the altar. Since the chapel had to be multi-denominational, one side of the cross (designated "Protestant") was unadorned. The reverse side of the cross ("Catholic") was adorned with a crucifix. For Jewish services, the cross could be concealed by the tablets of Moses., p. 70-73.
According to Nicolaides, the Camp Parks chapel was purchased in 1956, as surplus military property and rebuilt in San Lorenzo, California., p. 73. No more has been published about the building.
He also obtained a teaching position with the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma in 1942.[e] Despite being largely self-taught, Goff was named chairman of the school in 1943. This was his most productive period. In his private practice, Goff built a large number of residences in the American Midwest, developing his singular style of organic architecture that was client- and site-specific.
In 1955, Goff, who was homosexual, was accused of "endangering the morals of a minor", as homosexuality was not socially acceptable in Oklahoma in 1955. As a result of the unproven claims, he was forced to resign from his position at the University of Oklahoma. Historians and writers have expressed their belief that Goff was politically forced from his position specifically for being homosexual.
In 1955, Goff relocated his studio to the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which had been designed by his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. There he continued to produce novel designs, and also spent considerable time traveling and lecturing. Articles about his ideas and designs appeared frequently in professional magazines, such as Progressive Architecture, Art in America and Architectural Forum. In 1960-1961 he had Arthur Dyson as an apprentice in his office and from 1958-1960 Harvey Ferrero also apprenticed with him.
Goff's accumulated design portfolio of 500 projects (about one quarter of them built) demonstrates a restless, sped-up evolution through conventional styles and forms at a young age, through the Prairie Style of his heroes and correspondents Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, then into original design. Finding inspiration in sources as varied as Antoni Gaudi, Balinese music, Claude Debussy, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and seashells, Goff's mature work had no precedent and he has few heirs other than his former assistant, New Mexico architect Bart Prince, and former student, Herb Greene. His contemporaries primarily followed tight functionalistic floorplans with flat roofs and no ornament. Goff's idiosyncratic floorplans, attention to spatial effect, and use of recycled and/or unconventional materials such as gilded zebrawood, cellophane strips, cake pans, glass cullet, Quonset Hut ribs, ashtrays, and white turkey feathers, challenge conventional distinctions between order and disorder.
A number of Goff's original designs are on display at the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2002 director Heinz Emigholz produced the documentary film Goff in the Desert which depicts 62 of Bruce Goff's buildings. He also used imagery from this movie for the music video Celtic Ghosts of German band Kreidler.
Goff was active from the 1920s until his death, with several posthumous projects completed by associates. A number of his works were considered for listing on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The following are selected major works:
Goff's contributions to the history of 20th-century architecture are widely praised. His extant archive--including architectural drawings, paintings, musical compositions, photographs, project files, and personal and professional papers--is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.
His Bavinger House was awarded the Twenty-five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987, and Boston Avenue Methodist Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.
Goff died in Tyler, Texas, on August 4, 1982. His cremated remains are interred in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois, with a marker designed by Grant Gustafson (one of Goff's students) that incorporates a glass cullet fragment salvaged from the ruins of the Joe D. Price House and Studio.