Richard George Wheeler

Architect | 1917-1990

Richard George Wheeler, the son of San Diego architect William Henry Wheeler, launched RGW & Associates in 1947 starting out with primarily residential commissions but the office grew and diversified rapidly.

Richard George Wheeler was born the son of prominent San Diego architect William Henry Wheeler on June 30, 1917. Growing up on Guy Street in Mission Hills, the young boy attended Grant Elementary School, Roosevelt Jr. High and San Diego High School with his older brother Henry 'Hank' L. Wheeler.

Following his graduation from San Diego High School in 1935, Richard attended San Diego State College for “...three years before transferring to U.C. Berkeley, to further my architectural studies. I attended Berkeley for 3 years, graduating in June 1941 with a major in architecture...,” Wheeler wrote in 1989.

Only months after graduating and earning money teaching night classes in architecture at Cal, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the US entered World War II. Wheeler recalled, “I applied for a commission in the Navy. It came through in May 1942 as an Ensign. They immediately sent me to Sitka, Alaska where I stayed for three years. My first tour of duty was as commanding officer of Port Armstrong, a converted cannery, then on to Port Althorp as Executive Officer."

Following the end of World War II, Richard returned to work for his father at Wheeler & McGowan, Architects and Engineers. During this period of time he met and married Marian O’Brien and had two children - Wendy and Brien. "...In May 1947, I received my architectural license and quit Wheeler & McGowan. Dad was old and blind and wished me “God Speed,” he wrote.

"Dick began his career as a self-employed architect in the garage of his Pacific Beach home in 1947," recalled his former secretary Katy Baehles who started working for Wheeler in 1957. Wheeler opened his first office in two rooms on the 2nd floor at 5th and Laurel in the old Spanish Village (later the 5th Avenue Financial Center topped off by Mister A’s). The Wheeler office only had one employee at the time, Clark Laycock, who left Wheeler & McGowan with Richard. While Dick designed, Clark crafted each project's working drawings and specifications. They each took a salary of $75.00 per week. Business picked up and commissions started to come to the office - and within a couple of years increased to 1,200 square feet and ten employees.

Shortly thereafter, Richard designed a new office for his firm at the corner of 5th and Ivy Lane (later NuNu’s). In addition to the 1,500 square foot office, Wheeler’s brother Hank, and general contractor for the firm, built four apartments adjacent to the office to bring extra income to the firm.

In 1957, the year Richard would lose his father Henry, Clair W. Burgener and the architect built the Wheeler Building, or Horizon House, on Rosecrans. At this address locally acclaimed architects Tom Tucker, Hal Sadler, Ed Bennett, Gayne Wimer and Roger Matthews would cut their teeth under Wheeler's mentorship.

The Wheeler office started out with primarily residential commissions and diversified rapidly, in part due to Wheeler's relationship with Legler Benbough for whom the office designed several projects. In the late 1950s, the firm changed its name to Richard G. Wheeler, AIA, & Associates, A Division of Charles Luckman Associates (later the Luckman connection was dropped).

Among his writings, Wheeler offered, “Design for Living: My philosophy of design is my philosophy for living. I would not force my theory upon any society but through logic and my belief in the greatness of man, I will tend to influence the world with that which I think is most fitting and appropriate for modern living. Of paramount importance is the necessity for free thinking and not to be bound by conventional or traditional architecture. I do not mean that we are to improve the past, but to study it along with the manner of living in relation to the time in which it was built, is the logical approach. The buildings of the past were designed in relation to the society that was to inhabit them, thus it would be unpardonable folly to associate the present manner of living with the past and to design our buildings based on this decadent style."

In 1959, Tucker, Sadler and Bennett left to start their own firm, taking the important Safeway stores account with them. Richard and Marian divorced the next year. Despite losing some of his assets in court, Dick was allowed to keep his lot at 3223 Sterne where he designed “a house for a bachelor" according to the LA Times Home Magazine. Mr. Wheeler would then marry Gerry Smith and have three children - Cindi, Jim, and Rick.

According to Wheeler, “I think the one building that changed my career was the award of the commission to design the corporate headquarters for the San Diego Gas and Electric Co. It was a dream project. Before starting the design, Pete DeYoung, a Vice President of the Gas Co. toured the country with me studying the best buildings around the United States…we were determined to make this a fine building.”

The firm was then awarded contracts by C. Arnholt Smith to design the Executive Hotel, Westgate Plaza and numerous branches for US National Bank. The firm grew to employ 40 architects, engineers and support staff. In 1970 the firm name was changed to Wheeler, Wimer & Associates. The office’s work had expanded greatly becoming one of the largest architectural firms in San Diego County.

“In January of 1989, I decided to retire. I was 71 and 41 years of practice seemed sufficient. The practice was wonderful and I felt that I had accomplished my objective as originally planned. I would estimate that we designed…400 buildings," Mr. Wheeler later wrote.

Richard George Wheeler died on May 14, 1990.

Partial List of Projects

Allen, Dr. Phillip Office
6th and Ivy, Hillcrest

Associated General Contractors (1960)
404 Camino Del Rio South, Mission Valley
*Demolished in 2005

Bechetel Residence (1952)
Location not known

Benbough, Legler Medical Building #1 (1952)
5th-6th and Hawthorn, San Diego

Benbough, Legler Medical Building #2 (1958)
2850 6th Avenue, San Diego
*Demolished

Butter, Hazel Residence (1947)
Granger Street, Ocean Beach

Circle Arts Theater (1961)
Clairemont Mesa Blvd, Kearney Mesa
*Demolished

Convair Off-Site Warehouse (1957)
*At 500,000 square feet this was one of the largest steel frame buildings in the world. Reportedly located at Rose Canyon "parallel to Highway 101 and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad tracks"

Del Norte Housing Tract
Date, Location Unknown

Dick, William and Ruth Residence (1952)
2354 Pine Street, Mission Hills

Edgewater Cove Apartments (1959)
1031 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla

El Cortez Hotel Additions (1954)
San Diego

First National Bank of San Diego (ca. 1962-1963)
Navajo Shopping Center

First National Bank (1963)
Clairemont Drive and Balboa intersection

First National Trust and Savings Bank (1961)
NE Corner of Mission Boulevard and Turquoise Street
*Demolished

Frame-Grosso Dental building (1952)
4060 30th Street, North Pakr

Garden of Allah Restaurant (1954)
3780 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
*Wheeler designed The Flame in 1955 to replace Garden of Allah after it burned in 1954.

George Residence (1953)
Clairemont Mesa

Glasson, Bill Residence
Jamul

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Addition (1958)
4335 Van Dyke Avenue, City Heights

Greek Orthodox Church
3600 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest

Gross Center (1959)
3045 Rosecrans, Point Loma

Gross Smith Mall (1961)
Lemon Grove

Grossmont Junior College (1964)
8800 Grossmont College Drive, El Cajon
Recognized at the 1964 United Masonry Association of San Diego Awards

Gynob Building
Fifth Avenue, San Diego

Hansen, Mr. & Mrs. Dean Residence (1950)
2455 Poinsettia Drive, Point Loma

Humanities and Social Science Building (1969)
UC San Diego, John Muir College

Imperial Savings (1973)
4791 Spring Street, La Mesa
*Demolished

La Jolla Square (1963)
La Jolla
*'Custom Executive Offices' at Girard and Silverado

Lockwood & Gordon Cinerama Theatre (1962)
58th & University Avenue, College Area
*Demolished

Loma Square Shopping Center
Point Loma

Loomis, Robert Residence
La Jolla

Loveall, Dr. Medical Building (circa 1950)
4th Avenue, San Diego

Mission Valley Inn (1958)
Mission Valley

Narmco Offices (1960)
Research Park, Kearney Mesa

North Park Health Club
*San Diego & Point remarked "The North Park Health Club will relocate to Clairemont in this much-expanded facility... Charles Richardson will build this Richard Henry Wheeler design."

Paradise Valley Hospital (1964)
2400 East Fourth Street, National City

Parkview Medical Building (1955)
San Diego

Perlstein, Morris Residence (1970)
7404 Hillside Drive, La Jolla
*Attribution from Julius Shulman archive

Phillips Ramsey Co. Offices (1955)
NE corner of 3rd Avenue and Ivy Street, San Diego

Point Loma Doctor's Hospital (1959)
3475 Kenyon Street, Point Loma

Private Residence (1952)
2425 Poinsettia Drive, Point Loma

Private Residence (1955)
940 Country Club Lane, Coronado

Private Residence (1953)
3020 Seville Street, Point Loma

Private Residence (1955)
916 El Mac Place, Point Loma

Private Residence (1951)
9306 Mesa Vista Avenue, La Mesa
*Attribution

Private Residence (1954)
9134 Dillon Drive, Mount Helix

Private Residence
Alvarado Estates

Redwood Baptist Church
Rancho Mission

Residence for The Guild Company (1955)
3551 Garrison Street, Point Loma

Rohr, Fred Residence
Point Loma

Rosecrans Professional Building (1958)
3276 Rosecrans, Point Loma
*Also known as Horizon House and RGW Associates Office Building

Sands Motel
San Diego

San Diego Gas & Electric Company (1968)
101 Ash, San Diego

San Miguel School for Boys (1960)
Linda Vista Road, San Diego

Security Trust National Bank (1958)
North Clairemont Quad, Clairemont

Shattuck, J.R. Model House
Location not known

Shearson-Hammill Building
Northeast corner of 6th & A, San Diego

Shelter Island Restaurant/Hotel (1960)
Point Loma

Shelter Island Botel (1958)
Point Loma

Shelter Island Inn
Point Loma

Skeoch Residence
Alvarado Estates

Smith, Raymond E. Residence (1954)
646 Bradford Road, El Cajon

Speedee Mart Stores (1961)
10 stores in San Diego County owned by Henry Boney

Sports Arena for Herbert R. Bachrack (1949)
1412 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
*Demolished

Taylor, Thomas T. Residence (1959)
Unknown location
*Photographed by Julius Shulman

Thompson, Jack Residence
Point Loma

Tiano, Nessim and Sarah Residence (1956)
5149 Mesquite Road, Alvarado Estates
*Attribution by owner

Union Carbide Electronics Division (1968)
Kearny Mesa

University Lanes (1959)
5933 University Avenue, San Diego

Valley Shopping Center (1959)
Bounded by Johnson Avenue, Magnolia Avenue and Broadway, El Cajon

Vance, Paul Residence
Kensington

Vernetti, Dr. James Dental Office (1947)
543 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Westgate Plaza Hotel (1970)
1055 2nd Avenue, San Diego
*At a cost of $14.5 million, when the Westgate Plaza Hotel was built in 1970, it was the most expensive hotel built in the country. It is not clear how Wheeler was involved as the hotel is attributed to Bird, Fujimoto & Fish.

Westminster Presbyterian Church (1961)
3598 Talbot Street, Point Loma

Wheeler, Henry L. Residence (1947)
3703 La Cresta Drive, Point Loma

Wheeler, Henry L. Professional Building (1959)
1st Avenue and Maple Street, San Diego
Noticeable by the seven 18' concrete block (Hazard's Empress Screen Bloc) screen walls facing south and east.

Wheeler, Richard George & Associates Office (circa 1950)
3537 5th Avenue, San Diego

Wheeler, Henry L. and Jan Residence I (1948)
3615 Plumosa Drive, Point Loma

Wheeler, Henry L. and Jan Residence II (1953)
5374 Canterbury Drive, Kensington

Wheeler, Richard Residence I (1948)
3664 Curtis Street, Point Loma

Wheeler, Richard Residence II (1960)
3223 Sterne Street, Point Loma

Windago Apartments (1958)
La Jolla Shores, La Jolla

Woods Residence
Alvarado Estates, College Area