Gloria Jacobus Olson

It is with sadness that we share that our great friend Gloria Jacobus Olson passed away on Sunday, February 16th.

As a new graduate of the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Design in 1944, Gloria had interest in the work of Alden B. Dow.  She learned about Mr. Dow from a college professor and wrote to Mr. Dow to ask if he would be willing to meet with her about potential employment.   Taking the bus from Detroit she arrived in Midland ready to meet with Mr. Dow.  After discussing architecture and design with Mr. Dow and showing him her portfolio, he agreed to hire her to oversee his Midland office while he continued to work in Texas designing buildings in Freeport and the whole city of Lake Jackson.

Because of the war, there were not many projects in Midland, but a few continued, including work on the Midland Hospital.  Gloria designed the sign for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Ashman Street in Midland, Mr. Dow’s first religious structure in his home town.

Gloria would also work on the drawings for an Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority house in East Lansing.  She was a member of the sorority while at the University of Michigan.  The opportunity to submit a design was initiated by Gloria, who had heard the chapter was seeking a new house.   Sadly the design was not selected to be built.

Gloria accompanied the newly completed model of the proposed Governor Mansion to Detroit where it was on display for the public. Although the model and design created great interest and excitement, this was another project that would not be realized.

Gloria would continue to work for Mr. Dow until November 7, 1947, just two weeks before she married George Olson.  Mr. Dow invited Gloria to be married in the office, but she and George decided that a church was the better place for them to be married.

Later in 1954, Gloria and George asked Mr. Dow to design a home for their growing family.   They moved into the house in May of 1955 and Gloria has lived there ever since.

Gloria remained engaged and interested in design and architecture.  When Mr. Dow’s work was first being shared with the public, Gloria graciously offered to have her house open.  She would share her home as an example of his work with numerous architecture and design groups.

Gloria also served on the selection committee for the Houses of Faith Tours that the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio initiated to educate people to the incredible quality of religious architecture in Midland.   Gloria was a consistent and enthusiastic supporter and friend to the programs and mission of the Home and Studio.

Historic photos of the Alden B. Dow Office showed playful mobiles made of test plastic and wooden beads that used to hang in the reception area.  In talking with Gloria one day, she mentioned that she designed and constructed mobiles during her time at the Studio.  The mobiles added an incredible sense of play to that area and I asked if she would be willing to create a new set.   In her ever-gracious and kind manner, she said she would be thrilled to re-create the mobiles that hang in the office today.

In the 1960’s Gloria asked Mr. Dow to speak to a woman’s group she belonged to.   She introduced Mr. Dow and her introduction illustrates her understanding and passion for modern design and her appreciation of Mr. Dow’s thinking and creativity. To honor Gloria, we offer her beautifully written introduction.

“We are becoming aware that Architecture is an art.  It is an ever increasing circle of influence over our lives.  A few thousand years ago it was an art which only certain groups of people were privileged to enjoy.   A few hundred years ago, it was still an art which only certain groups of people were privileged to enjoy.  A few decades ago the same thing still was mostly true.  The great majority of the world’s population had to accept adaptations of original beauty in their dwellings, places of worship, and public buildings.  Architecture and its detail even centuries old was being copied and upheld as the ultimate in beauty and still is today.

“But gradually, first in the European countries, architecture was becoming more of a creative art and less of a collective one, for smaller private buildings as well as imposing public buildings.  Finally, about the middle of the last century in this country, an architectural pioneer, H.H. Richardson, designed some buildings that looked like they belonged in the U.S.A.  Then came the great Louis Sullivan, architect of the skyscraper era, followed by his pupil Frank Lloyd Wright, later a famous architect in his own right.

“In our generation it is Mr. Alden Dow, whom I believe has done more than any other one man in less than twenty-five years to bring the art of architecture into the realm of here and now of everyday existence, to bring it within personal understanding in the simplicity, warmth and usefulness of his buildings.  He has captured space in the most delightful way to suit every human need.  He has shown that architecture is more than the front face of a building.

“Quite a few years ago, before his architecture was well known or appreciated in Midland, Mr. Dow had received recognition in the field of his art both in this country and abroad.  For example, did you know that in 1937 he won a grand prize at the Paris International Exposition for the design of one of his first houses?  In 1944 he won a thousand dollar award in the competition for the design of a Veterans Memorial in Houston, Texas.  In 1950 his design was chosen for an Art Center which was built in Phoenix, Arizona.”

In closing, Gloria remarked:

“We in Midland are fortunate that Mr. Dow came home to Midland to practice architecture.  We have all derived both tangible and intangible pleasure from many of Mr. Dow’s buildings, in houses, churches, or public buildings, and I know this afternoon that you have discovered that the essence of this architecture must come from Mr. Dow himself.”

Gloria was one of those people you meet and you instantly know their depth of sincerity, kindness and intellect.  She had an inquisitive nature that was beautifully coupled with a gentle, kind and gracious approach to all endeavors.   We are thankful that she shared her knowledge and passion for modern design with us.  Moreover, we are grateful to have known her and be impacted by her gentle spirit.

Craig McDonald

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