Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, John Stewart Detlie received an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Alabama and a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1933. After graduation, he moved to Hollywood to work in the movie industry. In 1940, he was nominated for an Oscar for his work as production designer on the film, "Bitter Sweet." Among his art-director credits were "A Christmas Carol" and "Captains Courageous."
In 1942, he left Hollywood's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios to manage a camouflage project in Seattle. To confuse enemy bombers, the Boeing Company camouflaged nearly twenty-six acres of their Seattle B-17 plant. Detlie used his skills as a set designer to cover Boeing's Plant 2 with three-dimensional wire, plywood and canvas structures that were made to look like a town, including trees, houses and schools, instead of a wartime airplane factory. After the war, in 1946, Detlie joined the architecture firm of Young & Richardson and became a full partner in 1952.
Under the name Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie, the firm produced a wide variety of projects. Among their more notable work is Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness Lodge which received a National AIA Honor Award in 1952. Additional projects include Terry-Lander Hall (1953, 1957) and McCarty Hall (1963) at the University of Washington, the Seattle Parks Department Administration Building (1948), Children’s Orthopedic Hospital (1953), an addition to St. Mark Episcopal Cathedral (1958), the National Bank of Commerce in Renton (1960-61), and concourse additions to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (1963-65).
Detlie left the firm and Seattle in the 1960s and went on to become a noted architect in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Honolulu before retiring near Palm Springs. He was a pioneer in the Seattle arts movement in the 1950s and helped form the Allied Arts Club of Seattle becoming their first president.
After Detlie left, the firm of Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie became The Richardson Associates, known as TRA.