After graduating in architecture from the University of Washington in 1927, Welton Becket studied at the École des Beaux Arts, Fontainbleu, for a year, and then worked several years as a junior designer for firms in Los Angeles and his native Seattle. Becket settled in Los Angeles permanently in 1933, forming a partnership with established Los Angeles architect Charles F. Plummer and Washington classmate Walter Wurdeman. The trio gained considerable local publicity with their award winning design for the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1935, which facilitated their entry into Hollywood film circles. The following years saw a series of residential commissions for movie stars such as James Cagney, Caesar Romero, and Robert Montgomery. These were generally executed in traditional Period Revival styles.
Incorporated as Wurdeman and Becket in 1939 after Plummer's death, the firm prospered and expanded during the World War II era, completing public housing and defense projects and positioning themselves well for the region's post-war construction boom. Now focused on larger commercial projects, Wurdeman and Becket's work of the mid- to late 1940s took on aspects of the Late Moderne and International styles. Their best known commissions included Bullock's Department Store in Pasadena (1944) and buildings for General Petroleum (1946) and Prudential Insurance (1947) in Los Angeles. Following Wurdeman's untimely death in 1949, Becket took over sole leadership of the firm as Welton Becket and Associates. It grew to be one of the largest architectural firms in the United States, with headquarters in Los Angeles and offices in San Francisco, New York, Houston, and Chicago. Welton Becket and Associates completed numerous well known and high-profile projects around Los Angeles, including such icons of mid-twentieth century Modernism as the Capitol Records Building (1954-56) and the Cinerama Dome, the world's first concrete geodesic dome (1963-1964). They were also responsible for the Beverly Hilton Hotel (1955), Memorial Sports Arena (1959), Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building (1962, with Pereira & Luckman and Paul R. Williams), and the Federal Office Building in Los Angeles (1966, with Paul R. Williams and A.C. Martin & Associates).
Welton Becket was named master planner for UCLA in 1948 and continued as supervising architect for the campus until 1968. At UCLA, Welton Becket worked closely with Ralph D. Cornell (later Cornell, Bridgers and Troller), supervising landscape architect for the campus, and the companies collaborated on a number of independent projects, such as the Pomona Civic Center and the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn.
While working with Walter Wurdeman in the 1930s, Becket embraced the philosophy of "total design," which guided his firm's approach thereafter. He encouraged clients to allow the firm to control all aspects of a design, including master/site planning, engineering, all interior work, finishes, fixtures, and landscaping, so that a unified and coherent building would be achieved. As evidenced by the lengthy treatment of the complex in William Hunt's 1972 biography of the firm, Total Design, the Los Angeles Music Center may well reflect the most complete realization of Becket's philosophy. Welton Becket staff either designed, or had custom designed, all of the interior furnishings and fixtures, carpeting, signage, lighting fixtures, restaurant china and flatware, and even the menus and promotional brochures, announcements, and programs for the facility.
Leadership of the firm was assumed by MacDonald Becket, Welton's son, after his death in 1969. In 1987, Ellerbe Associates acquired Welton Becket Inc. to become Ellerbe Becket Inc. The firm continues today as Ellerbe-Becket.
The above piece, "Welton Becket and Associates" is an excerpt from Historic American Building Survey prepared by Teresa Grimes