SAH Newsletter

Obituary: Michio Yamaguchi (1943-2015)

by Pauline Saliga & Virginia Jansen | Apr 08, 2015

Michio Yamaguchi (born January 11, 1943), a frequent SAH Study Tour participant and beloved friend to many SAH members, passed away in San Francisco on March 8, 2015. He suffered from a number of health issues for the past few years. Born in Provo, Utah, Michio was raised primarily by his mother, Masu, after his father, Hideo, passed away in 1953. Michio is survived by his mother, his sister Grace Yamaguchi, and many cousins.

Michio_Yamaguchi-(photo-Virginia-Jansen)_250pxA graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, Michio made life-long friendships in school, including one with Marvin Mitchell whom he met in 1966 when they both took Romaldo Guirgola’s Urban Design Studio at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. While Michio was in graduate school, he worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After graduation, he continued to work with them, designing tenant floors in the World Trade Center, which was just being completed. According to Mitchell, Michio also worked as a fry cook for his cousin’s pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka which also gave him the opportunity to travel extensively in Japan.

In the 1970s Michio also worked in the architectural office of Beverly Willis, who commented, “Michio worked for me for a number of years in the mid-1970s. He was a talented architect and leader, serving as the project manager for our largest design and engineering project, Aliamanu Valley, a new town of 11,500 people for military families in Honolulu, Hawaii." Later, Michio opened his own practice, Michio Yamaguchi Architect, where he designed homes and apartment buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, and Sacramento. In recent years Michio specialized in housing designs for seniors in the Bay Area, where he played a vital role in creating affordable housing in San Francisco, a city known for its high housing costs.

Michio had many close friendships that were forged on SAH Study Tours. Many of the SAH study tours in which Michio participated focused on US themes including the Prairie School in Iowa and Minnesota, the Resort Architecture of the Adirondacks, Bruce Goff in Oklahoma, Native American Architecture in the Four Corners Region, Chicago Residential Architecture, Long Island Estates, The Las Vegas Strip, and the American Heartland, to name a few. He also participate in many international SAH tours including India, the Netherlands, Cuba, and Turkey, where he always was a tireless photographer, taking hundreds, if not thousands, of images on each journey.

Michio Yamaguchi will be missed by his many friends at SAH. A memorial service will be held at the Pine United Methodist Church, 426 - 33rd Avenue, in San Francisco on April 18, at 1 p.m.

Pauline Saliga
SAH Executive Director


A Personal Recollection of Michio Yamaguchi

Affable, curious, interested in and friendly to everyone, Michio was an exceptional person to travel with, or just hang out with. We usually added days before and after SAH meetings and tours to see additional sites. In addition to a good eye (but watch out when he was driving!), he had very good historical knowledge of architecture, bolstered by his exceptionally large private library. Every SAH meeting, he came home with a huge stack of heavy books; the exhibitors were delighted to see him coming. He had a great memory for things he had previously seen, which made him an excellent travel companion-cum-guide. For example, taking a pre-SAH meeting tour in Wisconsin (to Taliesin, Johnson Wax Company, Wingspread, etc. with Susan Green and me), we couldn't remember which direction we came from as we drove around the four equal facades of the Capitol building. Circling twice, Michio figured out where we wanted to go next, remembering some tiny detail he had seen from an earlier trip, while I sat buried in the map (this was pre-navigator days). He was phenomenally like that. 

Farewell-dinner-on-SAH-Study-Tour-to-Japan-2007---Virginia-Jansen-300pxBoth before and after the first SAH Japan trip, he arranged for several of us to visit sites that were beyond what we could do on that excellent tour, and gave us running commentary, too. What we saw was extraordinary, complementing the modern-oriented SAH tour. He had learned Japanese working in a cousin's restaurant during the Osaka Expo, but said laughingly that his language, based on the kitchen staff's, revealed a female-based lingo! On the second SAH Turkey tour, walking down streets in his wake, I observed crowds parted as this large man sauntered along with three slide cameras (two with substantial zoom lenses) around his ample neck, with men shouting, "Japan! Japan!," to which he replied, "No, San Francisco!" and then we laughed at their confusion. But he established an easy bond with the men, as the World Cup was on, and he asked how Turkey was doing.

In San Francisco, he gave wonderful ad-hoc tours of the city based on his amazing long-term experience of the city, interspersed with comments, such as, "We designed that in 1982; that was quite a story," as we drove up and down across the city. He not only designed buildings but also served especially in his later years as construction manager, particularly for senior housing. Given his tolerance, rapport with people, and "guy"-knowledge, in addition to his architectural expertise, he must have done an amazing job.

Not only did he have a large book and slide collection (he vied with John Kurtich for the most slides taken per SAH trip—usually about two thousand!—but John always took even more), he also had an enormous clothes collection. A dapper Dan, he showed up at receptions bedecked in an expertly tailored suit (usually from Hong Kong), with an English shirt, and jaunty bowtie. Of course, his suitcase was always the biggest in the group.

Finally, Michio was kind, generous, and always thinking the best of everyone—a model to look up to. He was a lifetime SAH member, and perhaps went on more tours than anyone else, at least in my memory.

Virginia Jansen, FSA
Professor Emerita, History of Art and Visual Culture
University of California Santa Cruz


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610