William Paul Kesling

Architect | 1899-1983

In 1926 William Kessling dropped an ‘s’ to become Kesling because he thought it looked better. This was part of his charm and oddball practices. In 1928 he may have even worked for Rudolf Schindler! By 1936 he claimed to have built over 450 projects. What we do know is that in 1939 Kesling moved to La Jolla to start a chapter in his life including a number of projects throughout San Diego County.

MacConnell House. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
MacConnell House by William Kesling. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Kesling's Kozy Kowsheds. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Jamar Dining Room. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Everett House. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
Ingalls House. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Born on October 18, 1899, in Brenham, Texas, the Kessling family moved little William to Calexico, California, in 1916. In 1920, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked his way up from carpenter’s helper to carpenter boss. In 1923, William began contracting carpenter labor and then serving as a general contractor. In 1926, he married Ehrma Williams. He changed the legal spelling of his last name from Kessling to Kesling because he thought it looked better.

Kesling claimed to have worked as Rudolf Schindler’s draftsman (in 1928) before opening his own office, Kesling Modern Structures, at 1639 Silverlake Boulevard in 1935.

By 1936 he claimed to have built “…over 450 homes, stores, and apartments in L.A. and the vicinity." At that point in his career, he remarked, "While I have never made a fortune, I have made a fair living.” Kesling eventually constructed many homes in the Streamline Modern style, some for movie greats like Wallace Beery. These homes, in which he called ‘scintillating modern structures’ in his own ads, featured large glass openings integrating interiors and exteriors.

In the later years of the Great Depression, Kesling’s business ran into legal trouble when he was sued for his inability to complete some of his houses at the pre-agreed price. Kesling’s overcharges were nothing new; in fact, many architects/contractors of the time sought additional funds from clients in order to finish their work – a practice for which Frank Lloyd Wright himself was notorious. Initially, Kesling prevailed in court but was later the subject of a grand jury investigation re-charging him for the same accusations. Frustrated, Kesling pled guilty to one count of stealing $24.00 for which he was convicted and his sentence was commuted to two years’ probation. The probation officer stated how overcharging was a “typical means of doing business at the time,” but the method was becoming too rampant and an example needed to be made. Kesling paid the price.

After his probation, in 1939, Kesling moved to La Jolla from Salinas. Joining his extended family, who had moved to La Jolla years earlier, he claimed to construct hundreds of “prefabricated” houses (likely the structures in Clairemont and at 46th & Market Street). The first reference of Kesling’s influence in La Jolla was from the La Jolla Journal on November 11, 1939, when he built a home at 538 Fern Glen for his brother, Adolph. His work became more noteworthy when his houses were featured in Life and California Arts & Architecture.

Julius Shulman, who photographed both Schindler and Kesling houses, believed that "Kesling has become important historically because he marked the transition from Art Deco Streamline Modern to Schindler's modern style." Schindler and Kesling had one thing in common - their work was not taken seriously at first by the architectural establishment because they acted as their own contractors. This was not the conventional road for professional architects."

One of his most significant area houses was the McConnell House. Built in 1946-47 for a retired airline pilot, the house still soars over La Jolla Shores Beach after being featured in a 1947 photo spread in Life Magazine.

Architect Russell Forrester, who worked for Kesling as a draftsman, argued that Kesling opened the path to Modernist development in confronting San Diego’s habitually restrictive regulations, a thorn in the side of the “rebels” of the Modern Movement. Kesling found ways to get around City code requirements that made it difficult to have large glass areas.

William Kesling designed housing for the US Navy during the war, after which he resurfaced in La Jolla. His late '40s designs were conservative wood and brick houses with trellises and patios; along with his design for the Jamar Dining Room restaurant, were photographed by Julius Shulman. A row of beach houses on Dowling Drive were nicknamed by the LA Times "Kesling's Kozy Kowsheds.” By this time it is argued that he had built 3,000 houses in his 30-year career.

Kesling was largely forgotten after his death in 1983, in San Diego, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Long championed by La Jolla historian Pat Schaelchlin, Kesling’s local work was “re-discovered” in 2000 when San Diego architect Wayne Donaldson identified Kesling’s row of houses on Dowling Street.

Partial List of Projects

Adams Residence (1937)
3217 Fernwood Avenue, Los Angeles

Beery Duplex (1936)
756 Waring Avenue, West Hollywood

Beery Residence (1936)
947 North Martel Avenue, Los Angeles

Borrego Springs Desert Club (1948-1950)
401 Tilting T Drive, Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs Mercantile Building (1948-1950)
665 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs

Campbell Residence (1936)
Webster Avenue, Los Angeles

Cliffside Subdivision (1951-1952)
Blocks 16, 17, and 18 of the 1908 Bird Rock Subdivision, La Jolla
*Identified Kesling built homes in the Cliffside Tract are located at: 5511 Calumet Avenue, 5519 Calumet Avenue, 5559 Calumet Avenue, 5535 Calumet Avenue, 5576 Chelsea Avenue. The house at Chelsea & Midway is a Kesling within the Cliffside boundaries. 5519 and 5535 attribution via Evening Tribune 2/14/52 p.54.

Cole (or Coule), Esker Martin & Lullah M. Residence (1946-48)
6604 Muirlands, La Jolla
*Demolished in 2011

Collins Residence (1936)
1709 Silverwood Terrace, Los Angeles

Dill Residence (1936)
Vista Del Monte, Los Angeles

Estes Residence (1936)
Broadlawn Drive, Los Angeles

Evans Triplex (1936)
1615-1617 Rendell Place, Los Angeles

Everett, James and Helen House (1946)
7172 Country Club Drive, La Jolla

Ganson, Mr. & Mrs. Bernard & Thelma Residence (1947-48)
545 Rushville, La Jolla
*Attribution via October 17, 1946 La Jolla Journal article; this 1,196 sq. ft house became the Better Homes & Gardens Five Star Home #1711

Howe Residence (1935)
2808 West Effie Street, Los Angeles

Hugh Woods Market (1951)
Christmas Circle, Borrego Springs

Ingalls, Thomas House (1946)
527 Arenas Street, La Jolla
*Attribution via October 17, 1946 La Jolla Journal article

Ingle Residence (1947-48)
5819 Beaumont Street, La Jolla
*MSD attributes this address to the house

Jamar Dining Room Restaurant (1948-1950)
5786 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla

Johnstone Residence (1935)
3311 Lowry Road, Los Angeles

Kaysor Residence (1942)
La Jolla

Kesling Modern Structures (1948-1950)
7522 Girard Avenue, La Jolla

Kessling, Adolph Residence (1939)
538 Fern Glen, La Jolla

Kibbe Residence (1937)
1495 Easterly Terrace, Los Angeles

King, Mr. & Mrs. H. Stephen Residence (1946)
8208 Paseo Del Ocaso, La Jolla
*Attribution via October 17, 1946 La Jolla Journal article

MacConnell, J. Walton Residence (1946-47)
1890 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla
*Attribution via Julius Shulman's archive. The house was published in Life Magazine in the November 3, 1947 issue pp. 154-160.

Martinet, Mr. & Mrs. Robert (ca. 1958)
915 Havenhurst Drive, La Jolla
*Attribution by Evening Tribune February 8 , 1958.

McConnell Residence (1947-48)
721 Genter Street, La Jolla

Model Home (1935)
1530 North Easterly Terrace, Los Angeles

Prefabricated Homes AKA Kesling's Kozy Kowsheds (1946-47)
Dowling Drive, La Jolla
*12 detached dwellings approximately 850 square feet were photographed by Julius Shulman. These are located at 6235 Dowling Drive, 6243 Dowling Drive, 6253 Dowling Drive, 6261 Dowling Drive, 6311 Dowling Drive, 6319 Dowling Drive, 6327 Dowling Drive, 6333 Dowling Drive, 6341 Dowling Drive, and 6351 Dowling Drive

Private Residence (1946-47)
8156 Paseo Del Ocaso, La Jolla
*Attribution

Private Residence (1937)
412 Glen Holly Drive, Pasadena

Private Residence (1947-48)
751 Dodge Street, La Jolla
*Constructed by Frank Stimson; Attribution

Private Residence (1947-48)
7972 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
4304 Narragansett Avenue, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
4303 Narragansett Avenue, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
4321 Niagara Avenue, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
4359 Niagara Avenue, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
4368 Niagara Avenue, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lot 12 Block 69, Point Loma Heights, Point Loma

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lots 27-28, Block 16 Bird Rock City by the Sea, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lots 28-32 Block 8 La Jolla Park, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lot B, F T Scripps Addition to La Jolla Park, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Block 1 La Jolla Park, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lot 6 Block 25 La Jolla Hermosa Unit No. 2, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lots 5, 8, 10 & 18 Block 34, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Hermosa Unit No. 2, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lot 1 Block 40, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Hermosa Unit No. 2, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lots 2-3, 5-6 & 9-10 Block 41, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Hermosa Unit No. 2, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Lot 9 Block 15, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
Shores Unit No. 1, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
7972 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
8499 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947-48)
5943 Folsom Drive, La Jolla

Private Residence (1949)
6035 Folsom Drive, La Jolla
*Attribution

Private Residence (1947-48)
639 Rosemont Street, La Jolla

Private Residence (1947)
8173 Paseo Del Ocaso, La Jolla

Private Residence (n.d.)
5619 Abalone Place, La Jolla
*Demolished. Attribution via San Diego Union (October 31, 1976 real estate advertisement

Private Residences (1961)
Clairemont Mesa, San Diego
*Several dozen homes on Kesling Street and Kesling Court, San Diego

Rivero Residence (1937)
1347 Miller Drive, West Hollywood

Skinner Residence (1936)
1530 North Easterly Terrace, Los Angeles

Strouds, Spencer House (1949)
Los Angeles
*Published in Los Angeles Times Home Magazine on August 14, 1949

Summer House Hotel
La Jolla
*Demolished

Ulm Residence (1937)
3606 Amesbury Road, Los Angeles

Vanderpool Residence (1936)
1526 North Easterly Terrace, Los Angeles

Vernon Residence (1936)
Otsego Street, Los Angeles

Wartime Housing (1942)
Chollas View, San Diego
*Published in November, 1942 issue of California Arts & Architecture, this development of 100 prefabricated 649-square foot detached dwellings at the intersection were reported as being located at Market & 46th Streets are also found on 45th Street, G Street, F Street, Market Street, Cotton Street, Craigie Street, Hilltop Drive and Boylston Street.

Wilson Residence (1936)
1831 Fanning Street, Los Angeles

Yarnell Residence (1950)
2489 Via Del Aguacate, Fallbrook
*Attribution by previous owner

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