REST IN PEACE: Ernest Jacks (1925 – 2020)

I generally reserve the biographies on this site for those that designed a significant body of work in the 20th century. That said, there are individuals that contributed only a few local projects connected to modernism in San Diego, I feel compelled to highlight because they influenced me. Ernie Jacks is one of them.

By Keith York

One such individual, Ernest "Ernie" Eugene Jacks Jr., was a draftsman on only one known project in the whole of San Diego County. Getting to know Mr. Jacks over several years in discussing my home – Craig Ellwood & Associates’ Bobertz House (1953-55) was a distinct pleasure, one that came into focus with his recent passing. During the years of owning and restoring the Bobertz House I spoke with and corresponded with Jacks – ultimately securing copies of the original working drawings still in his possession five decades after he drew them.

Widely recognized for his contributions to Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House Program in the years following World War II, building designer Craig Ellwood (1922-1992) established Craig Ellwood Design in 1951, and hired his first employee, a draftsman, Ernest "Ernie" Eugene Jacks Jr. in 1953.

Ellwood’s widely published Case Study House (#16) of 1953 for Arts & Architecture Magazine enabled the architect to reach an audience of clients looking for progressive designs – including subscribers, and San Diegans in search of someone to design their first home, Charles ‘Chuck’ Bobertz and his wife Gerry. Between March-August, 1953, the young couple worked with Craig Ellwood to design their home not knowing, “…that anyone else worked on our plans. Craig gave us the impression he did them,” Gerry later recalled.

The Bobertz House was in fact detailed by Jacks, who had moved to Los Angeles from San Diego after his service in the US Navy from the airfield on Coronado. Jacks joined Ellwood in January, 1953 and left eight months later – in August. According to Jacks, “Ellwood and I began the project together. Toward the end I was working on the drawings solo. We designed the home in 1953, drawing in the back bedroom of Case Study House #16 where we lived and ran the architecture practice.”

Shortly after completing the plans for the Bobertz House (as well as the Kelton, Harrison and Anderson homes also known as ‘Wall Houses’), Jacks would leave Los Angeles for Arkansas.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 14, 1925, Ernie grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas. Joining the global fight against fascism in 1944, Jacks served as a naval aviation radar technician, Petty Officer 1st Class, Flight Test Squadron. After leaving the Navy in 1946, he attended Arkansas State University, married his wife Nita in 1947 and moved to Fayetteville. Shortly after graduating in 1950, in the first graduating class of architecture students at the University of Arkansas, Jacks worked as a draftsman for Edward Durrell Stone. He was called back into the Navy in 1951 during the Korean War, and served as a structural draftsman, 1st Class, at Kodiak Island, Alaska, and in Coronado at North Island Naval Air Station.

Following his time with Craig Ellwood, in 1953, Ernie and Nita moved to Norman, Oklahoma, for graduate studies with Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma. In 1954, they moved to Little Rock, where Ernie worked in the Erhart, Eichenbaum and Rauch office as a draftsman and designer. In 1955, the couple returned to Fayetteville, where Ernie returned to work with Edward Durrell Stone.

In early 1961, Ernie joined the Holloway-Reeves office in Raleigh, North Carolina only to return to Fayetteville by year’s end with a professorship in the Architecture Department at the University of Arkansas. In early 1962, Ernie began as a professor and opened his own architectural practice. In 1995, he retired from the University.

While Mr. Jacks is survived by his wife, Nita; daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Don Shreve, he will be long held in high-esteem in the memory of thousands of students, clients, friends and peers that he touched in his 94 years. It was truly an honor getting to know Ernie via his letters and phone calls through the process of understanding the Bobertz House and more broadly post-War modern architecture.

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