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AC Martin Partners drawings and records on microfilm, 1906-2006

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AC Martin Partners drawings and records on microfilm

Biographical / Historical

AC Martin Partners are an architectural firm whose contributions to commercial and civic structures have shaped the built environment of Los Angeles. In operation since 1906, the firm has consistently emphasized maintaining a balance between precise planning and engineering. Based on the program and location of a building, and with appropriate design elements that reflect the building's intended role, their approach has remained consistent over 100 years of practice. AC Martin Partners are widely recognized for iconic structures such as the Los Angeles City Hall, Grauman's Million Dollar Theater, May Company Wilshire, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as well as their extensive contribution to the skyline of downtown Los Angeles, including Sanwa Bank Plaza and City National Plaza.

In a landscape that is home to many architects striving to define themselves with strikingly distinct styles, AC Martin Partners has consistently contributed architecture seemingly without branding, and structures that reflect the community and climate rather than the firm's corporate identity. Under the guidance of Albert C. Martin Junior (1913-2006) the firm's unofficial slogan was, "The firm is not a single individual," and from honoring neoclassical traditions and the Beaux-Arts style, to Art Deco buildings and glass tower blocks, and from malls to military facilities, their work is all-encompassing. The firm was a central figure in the 1950s post-war boom in Southern California, building many schools, churches, shopping centers, and technology facilities, as well as contributing to a vast amount of less-visible structural engineering work that binds the fabric of the city as a whole.

AC Martin Partners have also maintained a tradition of being civic leaders and generous contributors to their community beyond their corporate practice. The Martins are politically-minded and have been long-time board members of countless city planning associations and advisory councils, as well as frequent recipients of professional awards. Both Albert C. Martin Jr. and his nephew Christopher C. Martin (b. 1950) served as elected presidents of the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and Christopher C. Martin is credited with being the originator of Los Angeles's Adaptive Re-use Ordinance, which initiated the revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

The firm bears the distinction of having remained a family-run business for three generations. At the turn of the nineteenth-century, the young architect and engineer Albert Carey Martin left the midwestern United States and traveled to California, a land then symbolic of modern growth and opportunities. Martin would find both hardship and great success in the West, and ultimately build a legacy integral to the history of Los Angeles, a legacy that continues to grow through his grandchildren.

Born in 1879, Albert Carey Martin was one of eight children raised by parents John and Mary Margaret (née Carey) in La Salle, Illinois. Martin completed his formal education in Illinois, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1902. After graduation, Martin relocated to Indianapolis, where he served as a draftsman for Brown-Ketcham Iron Works. This was followed by a move to Pittsburgh, where he spent two years working for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. In 1904 Martin followed his brother Joseph, a Roman Catholic priest, to Los Angeles, California. Martin began doing manual labor related to the expansion of the rail lines for the Pacific Electric Railway, and was later employed by the building contractor Carl Leonardt & Company, for whom he worked as a construction laborer and then a foreman. The connections he formed through these experiences led Martin to the appointment of engineer for the development of the Hamburger Department Store in 1906. In an unanticipated turn of events, a falling out between the project's head architect and the client resulted in Martin being given the title of architect. Martin successfully guided the completion of the landmark building, and launched his own architectural firm under the name Albert C. Martin and Associates. A year later he married California native Carolyn Borchard, and the couple settled in Central Los Angeles, in the neighborhood now known as Koreatown. Here they raised six children: Evelyn, Margaret, Albert Junior, Carolyn, John Edward, and Lucille.

Two of Martin's brothers, Frank and Emmett, came to work at Albert C. Martin and Associates in the early 1910s, but World War I drew both of them to Europe. Frank's fate remains unknown, but Emmett returned to California and the firm in 1919, after studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. By 1924 Emmett had left Albert C. Martin and Associates to open his own architectural firm. He experienced a successful career in the Los Angeles area, particularly in his work for the Roman Catholic Church, until his premature death at the age of 48 in November 1937.

By the mid-1930s Albert C. Martin and Associates had become a prominent commercial firm in Los Angeles. In addition to momentous landmarks like the Hamburgers Department Store (1908), Grauman's Million Dollar Theater (1917), and Los Angeles City Hall (1928), they also completed multiple high schools, church rectories, office buildings, factories and warehouses. By this time, Martin's two sons, Albert Junior (August 3, 1913 – March 30, 2006) and John Edward (October 23, 1916 – November 22, 2004), had become the second generation of Albert C. Martin and Associates. Albert Junior graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1936, then studied civil engineering at The California Institute of Technology. John Edward spent two years at USC before pursuing architectural engineering at the University of Illinois. By the late 1940s Albert Junior and John Edward had worked up to management roles at the firm. In 1959 their mother Carolyn passed away. Not long after losing his wife, Martin Senior experienced a stroke and died on April 9, 1960.

The 1950s and 1960s were a period of expansion in southern California, and Albert C. Martin and Associates built many industrial manufacturing plants, scientific research facilities, hospitals, and parking lots during this time. This was also a period of shopping malls, and the firm completed two notable developments - The Lakewood Shopping Center and the Eastland Shopping Center - both projects for the May Department Store Company. 1965 saw the completion of one of the firm's most iconic structures, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Built in the International Style, this building demonstrated to Los Angeles that the second generation of Albert C. Martin and Associates was just as dedicated to giving the city strong and notable civic structures as the first had been.

A third generation of the Martin family found its place within the firm by the 1970s. Albert Junior's son David Martin, FAIA, (b. 1942) joined in 1967, after graduating from the USC School of Architecture and completing a Masters of Architecture at Columbia University. John Edward's son Christopher C. Martin, FAIA, (b. 1950) graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1974. The firm began to play a large role in earthquake damage repair and seismic upgrades by the mid-1970s, work which included a multi-phase retrofitting of Los Angeles City Hall in the 1990s. Their contribution to the skyline of downtown Los Angeles has been significant, and includes the Union Bank Plaza (1967), ARCO Plaza (1972), Bank of America Plaza (1974), Citigroup Center (1982), TCW Tower (1990), Figueroa at Wilshire (1991), and Two California Plaza (1992).

The firm now operates under the name AC Martin Partners, Incorporated, under the guidance of Christopher and David Martin. Christopher Martin is the firm's current CEO; he has long served as chairman and member on many city planning, commerce and philanthropic boards, and is a founding member of the Los Angeles Business Improvement District. David Martin is an award-winning architect and design principal who also runs the Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWorkshop) in Santa Monica, California. This firm has evolved through challenging economic and political times, through transitory stylistic influences, and through three generations of the same family. Today, AC Martin Partners are leaders in sustainable design and technological advancements in engineering and architecture, and continue to contribute to the city they helped build.


AC Martin Partners. AC Martin Partners: Thinking Simultaneously. Milano: L'Arca Edizioni, 2002.

AC Martin Partners, and Kanner, Diane. 1906-2006: AC Martin Partners, One Hundred Years of Architecture. [Los Angeles, California], 2006.

Hines, Thomas S. Architecture of the Sun : Los Angeles Modernism, 1900-1970. New York : Rizzoli, 2010.

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