Interview with Byron Romanowitz, July 13, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Romanowitz’s early life

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Partial Transcript: Today is Monday, July 13th, 2015. I am Gayle Kennedy of UK Libraries Special Collections and I am at the home of Byron Romanowitz for an interview with him about Ernst Johnson who was his partner in the architectural firm of Johnson Romanowitz.

Segment Synopsis: Byron Romanowitz was born in Covington, Kentucky. He moved to Lexington with his family in 1942. He started with engineering school at Texas, then eventually came back to the University of Kentucky and studied architecture under his new friend Ernst Johnson. Romanowitz says that Johnson taught him everything he knows and became his lifelong friend. Romanowitz also taught at Yale University for some time. Johnson died in 1972. Romanowitz was in the Navy and was the first architect in the civil engineering corps. When Johnson passed away, Romanowitz took over the firm. Romanowitz also wrote a book called "Issues and Images: 50 Years as an Architect in Kentucky."

Keywords: "Issues and Images: 50 Years as an Architect in Kentucky"; Books; Covington (Ky.); Education; Lexington (Ky.); Navy; Schooling; Yale University

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:07:48 - Ernst Johnson’s early life

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Partial Transcript: Did, um, he ever--did Ernst ever speak much about his life growing up to you?

Segment Synopsis: Ernst Johnson went to school at Yale University and spent a lot of time in Europe. He was mistaken for a serious guy, but in reality he was a funny guy and Romanowitz tells stories about his antics in college.

Keywords: Adolf Hitler; Berlin (Germany); Europe; Experience; Fun; Memorial Coliseum; Overseas; Serious; Speeches; “Old Over-render Johnson”

Subjects: Architects.; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Conduct of life.; College students--Social conditions; Universities and colleges.; Yale University

00:11:47 - University of Kentucky campus architecture

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Partial Transcript: And you first encountered Ernst at UK.

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz says that UK's campus did not have a grid system established yet so architects had to guess about the placements of buildings, sidewalks, etc. Ernst Johnson constructed the first pedestrian bridge on UK's campus, which made some walks a lot shorter and more convenient.

Keywords: 1958; 1959; Buildings; Chem-Phys Building; Chemistry-Physics Building; Construction; Convenient; Extend sidewalks; Grid systems; Guessing for layout; Meaning; Pedestrian bridges; Stadiums

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Bridges; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:18:51 - Ernst Johnson’s mentors, partners, and colleagues

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned about his, his renderings at Yale--

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz talks about one of Ernst Johnson's mentors at Yale University, Eero Saarinen. He talks about Johnson's relationship with Saarinen. Romanowitz talks about his own relationship with Johnson and his wife Irma. He talks about Johnson going into business with Bill Brock, starting the firm Brock and Johnson Architects. He talks about another architect, Hugh Meriwether, and his wife. Romanowitz tells a story about remodeling Johnson's office while he was on vacation.

Keywords: Admiration; Approval; Bill Brock; City halls; Competing; Competition; Construction; Death; Diseases; Education; Eero Saarinen; Europe; Generating the practice; Girlfriends; Good; Helping; Hugh Meriwether; Influences; Leaving; Looking up to; Loss; Memorial Coliseum; Mistakes; Nice; Practice; Ratty; Relationships; Role models; Spreading knowledge; Teaching; Terrible carpet; Wife; Wives; World War 2; World War II

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky; Yale University

00:29:20 - The newspapers and media

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Partial Transcript: Because Ernst was absolutely vilified.

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz says that the general thought at the time was that state employees like Ernst Johnson were working for the university designing buildings when that work should’ve gone to private practitioners. So the private practitioners used the newspapers to talk bad about Johnson to make him look bad. As time went on, the private architects slowly began to realize that what Johnson was doing was good. He was the first modern architect in Lexington.

Keywords: "Commonwealth of Art”; Art; Conflict; Designs; Ethos; Familiar; Fashion; Hard work; Influences; Jealousy; Painting; Pathos; Sculpture; State employees; Taking others' jobs; Terrible

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:39:12 - Ernst Johnson’s prime work

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Partial Transcript: Most of Ernst’s, I don't know, early, prime work is on the UK campus.

Segment Synopsis: Ernst Johnson’s main work was at UK, but then he began a lot of projects on schools in the Lexington area. This is what made his work truly start to expand out to other places.

Keywords: Campus; Campus buildings; Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.); Public schools

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:41:21 - Ernst Johnson's other notable works

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Partial Transcript: Any other--(clears throat)--memorable works, uh, beyond UK?

Segment Synopsis: Ernst Johnson did a lot of construction at Eastern Kentucky University. His dorm constructions were very "old school," barracks-like, with shared bathrooms and sleeping areas.

Keywords: Barracks models; Colleges; Dorm reconstruction; Dormitories; Eastern Kentucky University; Gang toilets; Living; Shared rooms

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:43:13 - Brock & Johnson architectural firm

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Partial Transcript: Well, the firm started in 1946.

Segment Synopsis: Brock and Johnson Architects, an architectural firm, was started in 1946. Before the firm was sold in 1992, the firm had done over a billion dollars worth of construction.

Keywords: 1946; Brock & Johnson Architects; Brock and Johnson Architects; Founding of firm; Invention

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architectural firms.; Architecture.; Building.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:45:14 - Late life of Ernst Johnson

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Partial Transcript: So he was practicing up until the very end?

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz says that Ernst Johnson was such a hard worker that he never formally retired from work. He was always working, even as his health and abilities declined. Ernst Johnson's later work was a lot more modern than previous buildings.

Keywords: 1972; Boyle County High School; Brick; Churches; Construction; George Rogers Clark High School; Health declined; Immanuel Baptist Church; Modern; Modern house design; Patterson Office Tower; Retirement; Schools; Sickness

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:56:14 - Romanowitz’s advice for the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Any advice to share with the University of Kentucky regarding the remaining buildings they have designed by, uh, Ernst Johnson?

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz wants the university to preserve the remaining buildings designed by Ernst Johnson. He says that the architects were very capable and intelligent and there is no way that the buildings they constructed are dangerous.

Keywords: Continuing; Experts; Hard work; Leave it alone; Legacy

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky

00:59:34 - Ernst Johnson’s work influencing Romanowitz’s

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Partial Transcript: Did you see his influence on you in your work?

Segment Synopsis: Romanowitz says that a lot of his work was influenced by the designs of Johnson’s work.

Keywords: Authorization; Expensive; Hires; Hiring; Influences; New jobs; Old AA Building; Opportunity; Role models; Whitehall Building

Subjects: Architects.; Architectural design.; Architectural drawing.; Architecture.; Building.; Campus planning.; College buildings.; College facilities.; Design.; Engineering.; Kentucky; Structural design.; University of Kentucky