By Roger Chikhani, AIA, Managing Principal:
The history of The Luckman Partnership, Inc. is as impressive as the structures and landmarks it developed. Just as the firm takes on a project from ground up, Charles Luckman built this company, from scratch, on to become one of the leading architecture firms in the nation. It’s a true rags to riches story.
The story of Charles Luckman embodies the true essence of the American Dream, a man who started out selling soap and ended up with a firm that has successfully completed an epic body of work. The true legacy of Luckman lies in how he defied all odds; a visionary who managed to do the unconventional and succeed at it too.
Prior to establishing this firm in 1950, Luckman had already been recognized as a pioneer in a different industry. A path he had extensively discussed in his best-selling autobiography, ‘Twice in a Lifetime – From Soap to Skyscrapers.’ In 1939, at the young age of 30, he had already shot up through the ranks of Pepsodent, where he learned that the company was about to become the target of a national boycott by independent drugstores. He steered the company through that crisis, and later moved on to Lever Brothers, where he became president at the age of 37. Charles proved to be the greatest salesman of his time – or of any time. The ‘boy wonder’ was the best-known American businessman of the day. He was featured on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines, and was chosen by President Truman to organize the Friendship Train, which delivered 120 million bushels of grain to the allies in Europe at the close of World War II.
But all that success did not distract such a visionary. In 1950, Luckman left Lever Brothers to return to his first love, architecture. He started his own firm in Los Angeles, California. By then, he had formed a partnership with architect William Pereira.
When Conrad Hilton commissioned Luckman to build a personal headquarters building on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills - Luckman was quick to realize that clients, like Hilton, had trouble visualizing architectural plans, but had no trouble understanding pictures. From then on, Pereira and Luckman presented their design sketches very early in the course of a project’s development. Simply to “let our clients know what we were talking about.” Luckman had placed heavy importance on clients’ needs. “Learn to listen to your clients,” he said, “your client was smart enough to make enough money to hire you and to afford to build a building. Listen. You just may possibly learn.”
Not to use the word visionary loosely, allow me to recall one of my many favorite stories that Charles had mentioned in his book. In 1952, Charles Luckman had agreed to speak at a dinner for the Sacramento Community Welfare Council, sharing podium with another speaker named Ronald Reagan. He spoke first. Then Reagan gave such an inspirational speech. Luckman recalls how moved he was that he returned to the microphone and said, “That man should be president of the United States.” Twenty-eight years later, when Reagan was indeed elected to that office, Luckman wrote him a note reminding him of his 1952 pronouncement. And if you are curious, President Reagan did, in fact, remember the incident.
It wasn’t just the landmarks that made Luckman a considerable name in the field of architecture; it was also the level of efficiency by which the company operated. The firm had designed 49 buildings for the Manned Spacecraft Center in an astonishing 48 days.
Charles Luckman recognition went beyond borders; he was awarded Britain’s Order of St. John, France’s Legion of Honor and Italy’s Star of Solidarity. He had helped create a wide variety of American landmarks, among them, the Prudential Center in Boston, the new Madison Square Garden in New York, Los Angeles International Airport, Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium and on and on. But what’s fascinating is that for those who knew him find that the only thing that was greater than all his achievements was the man himself. His own legacy will outlive any of his projects. Norman Cousins described his life as “One of the most remarkable lives of the twentieth century.” Art Linkletter called him “extraordinary.” But perhaps Bob Hope said it best, “The story of Charles Luckman in business is one to be studied by young people all over the world. It is a guide to success and what determination and talent can achieve.”
Today, we here at The Luckman Partnership, Inc. take it as a privilege and a great responsibility to carry on the mission that Charles Luckman had started. We are honored and determined to preserve the legacy of The Luckman Partnership, Inc.
The Luckman Partnership, Inc.