John Graham's Legacy Is Everywhere Around US -- Architect's Creations Include The Space Needle And Northgate

In his long career, architect John Graham, who died Tuesday, left his mark on cities around the world, and he helped define Seattle's skyline with structures like the Bank of California Center and the Space Needle.

But Graham's most important legacy is Northgate, the first planned regional shopping center, said Meredith Clausen, an associate professor of architectural history at the University of Washington.

When it was opened in 1950, Northgate was nothing less than revolutionary. Although the idea had been around, Northgate was the first to be built. Shoppers were suddenly able to take care of all their needs at one time.

This shopping-center concept was soon copied throughout the country and it changed the way people lived, Clausen said.

``John Graham was a very smart man,'' Clausen said. ``Northgate was so successful that he got requests to do other ones.''

It was a concept that was rooted in its time, Clausen said. The new shopping center addressed the needs of the growing number of people who moved to the suburbs after the war and relied on cars for transportation.

In 1956, Graham's Seattle-based firm designed four of the eight regional shopping centers built in the country. The firm also built shopping centers in Canada, Australia, England and France.

The malls, which were designed to compete with downtown, proved almost too successful.

``The shopping center had a major impact,'' Clausen said. ``It drained downtown Seattle of business and in some ways, it's still reeling from that blow. It almost destroyed downtown. Downtown retailers lost an enormous amount of money.''

Clausen, who interviewed Graham extensively in 1983 and 1984 for an article on him, said that Graham was pleased with the success of the shopping centers.

``He was proud of the fact they made a lot of money,'' Clausen said.

Graham also held the patent for the revolving restaurant. He first built one for a building in a shopping center in Hawaii and then repeated it for the Space Needle, which became the symbol of the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and remains a symbol of the city today.

Clausen said Graham's other buildings were largely undistinguished.

``They were geared more to business than aesthetics,'' Clausen said. ``His primary concern was with speed and cost-effectiveness, not excellence in design.''

In 1986, Graham's firm merged with the DLR group, another national design firm, but he remained active through 1990 and was in his Seattle office daily, said Bill Buursma, a partner in the firm.

He was also an avid sailor and made many trans-Atlantic passages, and entered several sailing races to Bermuda and Honolulu, Buursma said.

-- A memorial celebration for Seattle architect John Graham, who died Tuesday at 82, will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Seattle Yacht Club.

Mr. Graham is survived by his beloved Lois; his three children, Jane Sutherland of Mercer Island, Barbara Ann Graham of Santa Rosa, Calif., and John Thomas Graham of Seattle; and a sister, Helen Graham Park of Austin, Texas.

The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to a favorite charity.