Often credited as one of the main architects who defined the mid-century architectural designs of Los Angeles, California; architect Welton David Becket began his career in Seattle.
In fact, Becket was born in Seattle on August 8, 1902 and attended local schools, graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1922. He was most likely drawn to architecture through his family; both his dad and brother were builders. Beckett received his formal education from the University of Washington, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1927. After studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau for four months and traveling Europe with fellow classmate Paul Thiry for two months, Becket moved to California. By chance he ran into former UW classmate, Walter Wurdeman in 1930. Dissatisfied with their current jobs, the two decided to return to Seattle and form a partnership. That year Becket passed the State Architects exam (License No. L117) by reciprocity.
Together, the two immediately began receiving commissions in and around Seattle. Business went well and by the summer of 1932 the firm moved into the Meany Hotel Building. Designs ranged in an eclectic array of styles, from the Art Deco Edmond Meany Hotel Garage (1931); to a Cape Code style house for Fred Harley (1930) in the Laurelhurst neighborhood; to a Tudor Revival style dwelling for H.O. Compton (1931) in Cedar Park neighborhood.
Other known projects include the Cove Mid-City Market (1931) at the base of Magnolia; Eatonville High School and auditorium addition (1931); Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity (1931); a remodel of Sayles Candy Shop (1930) on University Way; a house in Meadowdale (1930); the American Wholesale Grocery Building (1933); and a Hotel (1930) at the SE corner of 8th Ave & Virginia in Seattle.
For reasons unknown, reportedly Beckett and Wurdeman moved to Los Angeles in 1933, forming a partnership with established Los Angeles architect Charles Plummer. 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 starts such as James Cagney, Ceasar Romero and Robert Montgomery most executed in traditional Period Revival styles.
Incorporated as Wurdeman & Beckett in 1939 after Plummer’s death, the firm prospered and expanded during the WWII era. Completing public housing and defense projects, the firm positioned themselves for the post WWII building boom, focusing on larger projects. Their best known designs include Bullock’s Department Store (1944) in Pasadena; and buildings for General Petroleum (1946); and Prudential Insurance (1947).
After Wurdeman's untimely death in 1949, Becket renamed the firm Welton Becket & 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. While working with Wurdeman, Becket developed the concept of "total design," whereby their firm would be responsible for master planning, engineering, interiors, furniture, fixtures, landscaping, signage, and even (in the case of restaurants) menus, silverware, matchbooks, and napkins.
Becket also designed several buildings in the Seattle area during the 1960s. Projects include the I. Magnin Store with NBBJ in downtown Seattle and the prototype for Tradewell Market chain. The first structure, Tradewell Market in Burien, recieved a National AIA Award of Merit for its innovative design.
Becket passed away in Los Angeles on January 16, 1969 but is buried in Seattle at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park. Upon his death leadership of the firm was assumed by his son, MacDonald. In 1987 the firm was acquired by Ellerbe Associates and was renamed Ellerbe Beckett Inc.
By Michael Houser, State Architectural Historian - March 2012
"Graduates Return From Study Abroad" Seattle Daily Times - January 3, 1928
"Edmund Meany Hotel Garage" WA State Architect - December 1930
"Remodel Sayles Candy Shop" WA State Architect - June 1930
"Drive-In Market" WA State Architect - November 1930
"House at Meadowdale" WA State Architect - April 1930
"Hotel" WA State Architect - April 1930
"Fred Harley House" WA State Architect - September 1930
"Subcontracts Let For $10,000 Mart" Seattle Daily Times - October 19, 1930
"Drive-In Market To Open Tomorrow" Seattle Daily Times - March 26, 1931
"Fraternity House Bids to Be Asked" Seattle Daily Times - May 24, 1931
"Kitchen Altreations to Meany Hotel" WA State Architect - August 1931
"Eatonville High School" WA State Architect - July 1931
"Eatonville High School Auditorium Addition" WA State Architect - June 1931
"Delta Sigma Phi Fraterinty" WA State Architect - April 1931
Architect & Engineer - June 1932 & December 1933
"New Grocery Building" Seattle Daily Times - January 19, 1933
"$220,000 Dream Home - Just Around the Corner" Seattle Daily Times - May 5, 1946
"Top Architect Drops Everything to Honor Luther" Seattle Daily Times - June 13, 1951
"Becket, Modernistic Architect, Visits Here" Seattle Daily Times - June 12, 1954
"I. Magnin's New Store Slates Formal Opening Tomorrow" Seattle Daily Times - August 1, 1954
"$750,000 Store Being Built in Burien" Seattle Daily Times - June 15, 1956
"How a Thin-Shell Concrete Roof Saved 25 Cents a Sq Ft" American Builder - January 1958
"Burien Store is Prototype for 30 More" Seattle Times - May 24 1959
"Dramatic Store Design" Practical Builder - December 1959
"Four New Tradewell Stores Will Cost $2,500,000" Seattle Daily Times - September 29, 1960
"Architect Firms Here in Top 100" Seattle Daily Times - September 29, 1963
"Welton Becket, Seattle Born Architect Dies" Seattle Daily Times, January 18, 1969