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Modernist architect William P. Pavlecic dies at 95

Bill Pavlecic, a son of Croatian immigrants, became a designer of striking, bold buildings. | Provided photo

One of Bill Pavlecic’s earliest childhood memories was of watching his future grade school being built on the Southwest Side.

He became a modernist architect who injected audacious jet and space-age design into traditional spaces like churches and banks.

Mr. Pavlecic, 95, died on Sept. 15 of complications from respiratory failure and dementia at Adventist Medical Center in La Grange.

Bill Pavlecic’s design projects included futuristic St. Gall’s church in Chicago, which has been likened to a UFO. | Provided photo
Bill Pavlecic’s design projects included futuristic St. Gall’s church in Chicago, which has been likened to a UFO. | Provided photo

He designed 27 churches. Two of his most striking projects include St. Gall’s at 5511 S. Sawyer — a Catholic church that’s been likened to a UFO — and the airy, circular Citibank building at 9009 Ogden Avenue in Brookfield.

“They are amazingly eye-catching,” said Anthony Rubano, a project designer with the Illinois State Historic Preservation office. “There’s a boldness to his work that you really respond to.”

“These are wonderful buildings,” said Lee Bey, former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic and a vice president at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Because he worked in Chicago, known for architecture stars and breakthroughs, Rubano said, “You have to wonder, hmmm, if he were in a smaller city, would a lot more people be aware of his work?”

“We know the big guys like Mies [Ludwig Mies van der Rohe], but out in the neighborhoods, there were a host of architects just under the radar who did buildings and gave them a modernist flair,” Bey said. Talents like Mr. Pavlecic “took what their teachers taught them about modernism and Bauhaus, and they scaled them down to neighborhood size.”

The airy, circular Citbank building in Brookfield is another example of Bill Pavlecic’s modernist sensibility. | Provided photo
The airy, circular Citbank building in Brookfield is another example of Bill Pavlecic’s modernist sensibility. | Provided photo

He started his career working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on what’s been dubbed the “secret city” of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It became a research center for the atom bomb, along with Los Alamos, New Mexico and Hanford, Washington. In Tennessee, SOM developed a master plan for a 9,000-acre site that accommodated workers and scientists with prefabricated stores, schools and homes.

Thanks in part to the work of SOM, “a single house with cement and asbestos walls in varied layouts could be manufactured every 30 minutes — averaging around 17 hours per day,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Amid Manhattan Project secrecy, Mr. Pavlecic “said they were building buildings with huge amounts of electricity going in, without even knowing what their contents were,” said his son Jim.

He grew up the son of Croatian immigrants Jacob and Caroline Pavlecic. His machinist father worked on the carburetor for the Spirit of St. Louis plane, piloted by Charles Lindbergh on his historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic, according to Mr. Pavlecic’s son.

Bill Pavlecic’s modernist details at the Brookfield Citibank at 9009 Ogden Avenue extend to the globe lights and futuristic writing tables. | Provided photo
Bill Pavlecic’s modernist details at the Brookfield Citibank at 9009 Ogden Avenue extend to the globe lights and futuristic writing tables. | Provided photo

Mr. Pavlecic “didn’t really speak English till he got to second grade. He spoke Polish and Croatian,” said another son, also named Bill. After Peck grade school and Lindblom High, he studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He co-founded Pavlecic, Kovacevic and Ota, which evolved into Pavlecic and Associates. He worked on projects including a lecture hall and housing at the Illinois College of Optometry, 3241 S. Michigan; St. Simeon Mirotochivi Church, 3737 E. 114th St.; Christ the Mediator Lutheran Church, 3100 S. Calumet; St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church, 5252 S. Austin, and, in Oak Forest, Acorn Library and Benedictine Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows convent.

His son, Jim, and daughter, Patricia Trudeau, also became architects.

He and Marian, his late wife of 63 years, raised their family in a La Grange home filled with midcentury modern furniture from Eames, Knoll and Herman Miller. The furnishings may have been clutter-free, but he had problems saying goodbye to cars, Jim Pavlecic said. “He’d have two that ran, and two that’d be sitting in somebody’s garages.”

Mr. Pavlecic enjoyed jazz, and the turtle soup and oxtail dishes at the old Binyon’s restaurant. After the kids were grown, he and his wife “went out for dinner every night for 30 years,” said his son Jim.

And just like when he was a boy watching Peck’s grade school go up, “My father would always like to stop and look at construction sites,” said Jim Pavlecic. For 53 years, he was a member of Lodge 52 of the Croatian Fraternal Union.

His son David died before him. He is also survived by seven grandchildren. Services have been held.