La Jolla Architect, Historic Preservation Architect, Advocate, Teacher, Professor and Dean
January 28, 1944 – April 20, 2021
La Jolla, CA –
Jeffrey Donald Shorn was born in the Bronx, New York, to Rhoda and Oscar “”Ozzie”” Shorn on January 28, 1944. His early and teen years were spent in Long Beach, Long Island, New York. These years were about growing up, school, beach, sand and ocean, which spoke to him and, like the friendships he made in Long Beach, would reenter his life much later.
He attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree. Among his faculty was Sibyl Moholy Nagy, who taught the History of Architecture and would later prove to have a great influence on his career. After graduating he joined the US Peace Corps as a volunteer in Iran. He was assigned to a public works program in Ahwaz in southwest Iran, and developed designs for schools and libraries. During a gathering of US expats, he was offered the US consul’s boat to take a trip up the Shatt el-Arab River of the Tigris and Euphrates. He said, “”…traveling through the marshes of Iraq was like traveling back in time. I almost expected Noah’s Ark to float by…”” During his time in the Peace Corps he traveled to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Israel and Greece. These journeys and sojourns gave him a greater appreciation for the culture of the world, and its history and its architecture.
Returning to New York after the Peace Corps, he taught junior high school in Harlem as part of the Teacher Corps. Living in Greenwich Village, he would be found on his motorcycle and in his leather jacket exploring the changing city. He told another story of being photographed by Richard Avedon in the Village with that motorcycle and leather jacket, with Candy Darling of Andy Warhol Factory fame hugging his back.
From his Village Sullivan Street apartment, he moved to an artist studio in the Hotel des Artistes on West 67th Street, where he mingled with artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, cultural icons like George Balanchine, and even astronauts! He tells this story: He had parked his motorcycle in front of the des Artistes building one evening. The next morning the concierge called up to his apartment…””Mr. Shorn, do you think you could move your motorcycle? The astronauts are coming for an interview in the CBS studio in the building.”” He went down to the lobby. As he exited the elevator, the astronauts were just coming into the lobby. Jeffrey said, “”…you could go to the moon and back and you couldn’t get around my motorcycle?””
By the early 70s NY had changed, and so did Jeffrey. New horizons awaited him. He had family in LA and he ventured west. Friends from his Peace Corps days living in Laguna Beach told him he needed to see the Salk Institute in a place called La Jolla. He ventured down the coast and what he came upon inspired him for the rest of his life. He quickly settled into a small cottage at Windandsea beach, drew the beach, surf and sand close to him, and discovered Rudolph Schlndler’s 1920s El Pueblo Ribera. After a brief time working in SD, Jeffrey decamped for San Francisco. While there he developed a design for a modular structural system for use in building community libraries in Iran. He was urged to go to New York to work with the Iranian embassy in developing his idea further along.
While in New York, Jeffrey would soon meet his husband, Charles Kaminski. At a party of a Pratt classmate, he met Charles when they both said a Persian phrase at the same time. Intrigued, he learned that Charles, also an architect, too had been in the Peace Corps and stationed in Iran, yet after his own volunteer time. From that phrase and chance encounter would grow a 46-year relationship of love, respect, admiration and authenticity of persons.
In early fall 1975, Jeffrey took Charles on a pilgrimage to La Jolla to see the Salk Institute and El Pueblo Ribera at Windandsea. Before returning to NY, Charles tore off his name and phone from a check and asked the owner of the units on Gravilla Street to call if any unit became available for rent. A few months later in November, the call came that 234 Gravilla in El Pueblo Ribera was available and “”…would they like to live there? It is only $400 a month, has a sauna, and is a half block to the Pump House and Windansea beach.””
Jeffrey and Charles packed their belongings in a van, drove across the country and permanently moved to San Diego in 1975. His original visit was to see the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, designed by Louis Kahn with Dr. Jonas Salk, which would weave through his career and life, and now he would put in his roots and grow, develop and mature in his new home.
One of his first preservation efforts was the nomination and designation of El Pueblo Ribera to the San Diego register of local historic sites. The El Pueblo Ribera Court complex became local landmark #117, designated in 1977. Jeffrey was often referred to as the caretaker of El Pueblo Ribera because of his passion and dedication for its protection and preservation. When fire destroyed one of the units, he was asked to be the architect on its rehabilitation and reconstruction.
He was asked to join the San Diego Historic Resources Board in the 1980s and served two terms. He was on the boards of Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO), the La Jolla Historical Society and the California Preservation Foundation. Jeffrey’s support of cultural and artistic groups was demonstrated by his involvement in the Balboa Theater Foundation, Save the Coaster Committee and 3’s Company & Dancers.
His architectural practice in La Jolla stretched from 1981 to 2015. His projects included work for the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista and Santee. He created designs for libraries, government offices, banks, retail stores, medical offices, etc.; in his later architectural practice years, projects were primarily residences in La Jolla, Point Loma, Del Mar and Golden Hill, and consultation on historic sites throughout the city and county. His project for the reconstruction of one of the units destroyed by fire in El Pueblo Ribera, and his project for the addition to the Driver Residence in University Heights, garnered him two San Diego Home & Garden magazine design awards in Historic Preservation. He was awarded the Citizens Coordinate for Century III (C3) Ruocco Award for his deep commitment to historic preservation.
When he was asked to join the board of the La Jolla Historical Society, he brought his abundant energy and enthusiasm to the Society. His tenure on the board instilled new insight into the historical architecture of La Jolla, from craftsman to midcentury. Jeffrey’s passion besides teaching was about the past and he dug deep into the history of La Jolla and San Diego. He often guest lectured for various groups and was asked to speak on many topics, among them on Irving Gill’s La Jolla Woman’s Club.
He taught at the New School of Architecture when it was first established by Dick Welsh in Chula Vista, then Carlsbad, and later downtown. He created and taught the History of Architecture course, influenced by his undergraduate years at Pratt Institute in New York. From teacher to professor at the NewSchool and ultimately, he became Dean of the NewSchool in the early 1990s.
Jeffrey’s love of the Salk Institute enabled him to have Dr. Jonas Salk give the commencement for the NewSchool graduation class in the early 1990s. This was the very first time the NewSchool held its commencement at the Salk. While Dean, he mentored one of his students in the preparation of the nomination of the Salk Institute to the San Diego local register of historic sites. The Salk Institute is historic landmark #304.
After giving one of the early talks for the Friends of San Diego Architecture on “”Lost San Diego””, he was asked to participate in a panel discussion on preservation at the La Jolla Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, based on that presentation. Even then, his interest of San Diego’s architectural and cultural history flowed through him, and into his students and the public at large.
His firm morphed from Pegasus Architecture + Design into Shorn + Kaminski Architects, and eventually to Jeffrey D. Shorn Associates, Architects. Jeffrey was part of the team that participated in the proposed development of the Balboa Theater into the San Diego Art Center. Although the project did not go forward, his architectural efforts would have incorporated that historic structure with a contemporary art museum. His firm was selected by the Port of San Diego as one of the finalists to revision the G Street Mole on the bay. “”Lighthouse Landing”” was a vision that included museum, aquarium, retail and fish processing spaces, and a signature architecture lighthouse.
In the 1980s and 1990s, as AIDs decimated the LGBTQ community, Jeffrey lost many friends here in San Diego, as well as across the country, to the epidemic. He volunteered his architectural services to Stepping Stone, the Beach Area Community Clinic, and the San Diego AIDs Project even while personally volunteering for Mama’s Kitchen and other AIDs serving organizations. Jeffrey and Charles were among the first couples in San Diego to formalize their relationship, when marriage became available to same-sex couples in 2008. Jeffrey was “”Party A”” to Charles “”Party B””! In 2018, Jeffrey and his husband were underwriters of the San Diego History Center’s landmark exhibition, LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles + Triumphs in Balboa Park. Jeffrey and Charles were acknowledged as Community Heroes in 2019 as part of the exhibit.
During the latter part of his career, he wrote, together with cultural landscape historian Vonn Marie May, the nomination of the Salk Institute to the National Register of Historic Places. Although the Institute objected to the nomination, the buildings and its site remain eligible for listing.
In 2016, SOHO awarded him and Charles the SOHO People in Preservation Award for Lifetime Achievement, for significant contributions to historic preservation in San Diego. Both were included in Will Fellows 2004 book, A Passion to Preserve – Gay Men as Keepers of Culture.
All was not work. Jeffrey played with passion equally as well. He loved ballet and dance. Joni, Barbra, Roberta, John Denver, Nina, Callas, and Tebaldi were some of his favorites. He grew roses and searched out lilacs and wisteria. Chili and pot roast were his calling when cooking was asked for (he said “”…the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!””). He saw the Taj Mahal in the full moon, snorkeled in the coral gardens of Bora Bora in the South Pacific (4 times!), found calmness on Kauai, camped in Yosemite, explored the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, climbed the ruins at Mesa Verde, flew past Mt. Everest, loved the opera at the Met, photographed the mosaics in Ravenna, lived in a cave on the island of Ios in Greece, walked the walls at Carcassonne, used a flashlight at night in the Alhambra, sat in Monet’s garden at Giverny, explored Croatia and Albania, and enjoyed the museums, gardens and art of Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, London, and New York.
Before his long-time health issues overtook him, and in mid-March, he was able to see, play with, and hold his one-year-old grandniece, Rory Bell, for her first birthday. She was born in March 2020 just as Covid started, and Jeffrey kept close to his home because of his health. His excitement at meeting this precious new life gave him strength and hope.
Those elementary, junior and high school friends he made in Long Beach, New York, came back to him as he discovered and explored social media, especially Facebook. Friends grown older and wiser found each other and built upon their history on-line and in phone calls. He would post pictures of classic cars, architecture, things of beauty. He found joy in these postings and in the rediscovered connections with his youth.
Jeffrey Shorn’s life and profession was always one of dignity and grace. His respect for his students, his clients, his professional colleagues and his friends was unique and is sorely missed. An authentic man if there ever was one.
Jeffrey passed on April 20, 2021. Interment was at El Camino Memorial Park. He asked to be buried near a tree, and his final resting place is adjacent to an olive tree in the Mt. Sinai section. He leaves his husband of 46 years, Charles Kaminski of Talmadge, sister Amy Fletcher (husband Ferdinand) and brother Cliff Shorn of Pacific Beach, niece Niocle Zappala (husband Andrew) and nephew Scotty Fletcher, his grandniece Rory Bell Zappala, and numerous cousins and many close friends far and wide.
From his eulogy by Rabbi Benj Fried:
“”Jeffrey had an immense intellect. A joie de vivre that was unparalleled. A passion and dedication to his work. And most of all, a good heart. And it is for all these reasons that he will be so missed.
It is important for us to consider how we will carry on his legacy and allow him to live through us. We will honor Jeffrey when we live out the most important lessons he taught us. To be bold, courageous, and always completely yourself. To love your history and fight to preserve it. That we must always pursue our passions. To be a life-long learner, and to be constantly reading and enriching ourselves.
He simply was who he was. He was bold and brave. And maybe he did see the world through rose colored glasses. But when you asked him about that, all he would do is respond, “”And why wouldn’t I want to look at the world through rose colored glasses?””
Published in La Jolla Light on May 13, 2021.