A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF EBER F. PIERS
John L. Piers
It was a Sunday morning; the year was 1927. The main water pump for the new Bank and Office Building had failed. The Building Engineer, fearful of Monday's opening, had called the Architect to the boiler room to survey the problem. Ail efforts to locate a repairman had failed. Patiently, hearing the Engineer out, the Architect said, "Harm, someone put this damn pump together, and we can pull it apart. Get your tools." Late that Sunday, somewhat haggard, the two men emerged from the boiler room.... Monday's opening was assured. Such were the ways of Eber Piers - Architect, Engineer, Inventor.
Eber Francis Piers was born in Denver, Colorado in 1889 of middle-class parents. Little is known of his early traces, and only a glimpse of his formative years is recorded. As he approached his teens, it became apparent that he would not follow his father's trade (a seller of farm implements), but would choose to pursue the sciences and things electrical and mechanical. Being a solitary youth, altogether self-sufficient and confident, he was certain that his fascination with the marvels of a new technological age would lead to something. Although he tolerated, formal schooling, he found pleasure in his own experimentation and investigation. In his teens, he assembled a wireless telegraph, engineered a steam engine, ground a lens for a reflecting telescope, and designed and built his own photographic laboratory. During his final year in high school, a course in mechanical drawing led to
his first job in architecture.
Ernst P. Varian, a Denver Architect of considerable prestige, had de- signed, among other buildings, the Denver Athletic Club, The First Church of Christ Scientist, and the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs. It is believed that his office offered Piers his first employment as a draftsman. While at this work and during his subsequent employment in the office of Walter Ware, Piers studied and became familiar with the work of the Chicago School of Architects; namely Jenny, Sullivan and Wright. These early impressions and his enthusiasm for this new architecture encouraged him to enroll in the School of Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado. After a year of dissatisfaction and disillusionment in what he termed "second-rate exercises in Ecole des Beaux-Arts", Piers elected to leave the school for employment in Ogden, Utah.
Julius A. Smith, Carpenter, Bridge Builder, and Architect was the senior partner in the firm of Smith & Hodgson. The office was in need of a draftsman to complete the drawings for a new Ogden High School at 25th & Monroe. In 1908 at the age of 19, Piers accepted the job. At that time, in Ogden, Architecture and the state of the art was in its infancy. After two years of employment, Piers left Smith & Hodgson and opened his own office. The growth of the Piers' office was not immediate; the work was sparse and commissions were small.
The Mrs. George E. Maule residence was a different kind of house. Built in 1911, this dwelling, unlike the ubiquitous and stylized revivals, stood apart. It expressed a sympathy for its surroundings and filled the needs of its Owner. This unadorned structure borrowed strength from those things "organic" much like the Prairie Houses of Frank Lloyd Wright. The wide protective eves, the low horizontal lines, and the unbroken fenestration, lent a feeling of shelter and composure to the house. There was no need to plaster mongrel ornaments of a past era on this; it had its own identity and beauty. The plan was unique. The usual ostentatious front entry was conspicuously missing and was replaced by an informal side entry, sheltered by a porte-cochere. The interior, likened to the exterior, was faithful to the entire scheme. Marked by low ceilings, open and flowing spaces, and the
omnipresent: window, the interior created a sense of protection without sacrificing a necessary abundance of light and ventilation. To complete the scheme, an innovative system of hot water radiation was introduced at strategic areas to provide zones of draftless comfort in wintery Ogden. Billings as set forth were:
Professional Services Rendered -
5% on $11,907.37 $595.37
To Dining Rm. Freize
72 hrs. @ 75¢ an hr. 54.00
Total Fee Due $649.37
Other residential projects followed, notably, the dwellings for E. 0. Wattis, Mariner Browning, and J. S. Lewis. The Royal Eccles residence was the last in a distinctive line of buildings dedicated to the Architect's principle that "all buildings should be firstly an expression of honesty, harmonizing the emotional and functional needs of its occupants and surroundings."
The Berthana Ball Room, "The most beautiful ball room in the West", was dedicated in 1915 by Governor Spry. In that year bachelor Piers was married to Mary Rae Keck, step daughter to Julius A. Smith, former boss, now retired. More commissions followed, but always the boyhood craving for experiment and invention was present. At the age of 27, the self-taught Architect had created more than fifty original inventions, including the first automotive disk brakes, a glare-proof automobile light, a series of electric boiler controls, a modulating steam valve, and many other inven- tions. Later, he developed a piston wheel drive for steam cars and a helicopter that utilized the principle of the centrifugal fan for its main
source of lift. At the time of his death, Piers had over 150 inventions to his credit.
The year was 1917; the country was at war. Piers, after turning his practice over to Charles Wood, enlisted in the Navy Air Corps. His training in San Diego led to a commission as Ensign. His first assignment was to the Office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who at that time was Franklin D. Roosevelt. After a short stay, Piers was sent to M.I.T. for specialized training in Aeronautical Engineering - courses that later would prove in- valuable in his profession. He was discharged in December of 1918 with the commission of Lt. j.g.
Following the war, Ogden began a new decade of growth and prosperity. Ten years had passed and Piers was now a seasoned Architect and Engineer. He designed many buildings during the twenties; the work flowed in and the jobs became larger and more complex. Those of particular note were:
The Central Junior High School - important for its innovative contribution to the development of mechanical air handling systems.
The St. Joseph's Parochial School - one of the first reinforced concrete framed structures in the West.
The First National Bank and Office Building - a twelve-story edifice that had as its foundation a continuous "raft" of reinforced concrete in twelve feet of water, resting on a sea of mud - a remarkable engineering feat considering the technology of the times.
Possibly more remarkable, however, were the efforts of the Architect. Single handedly, he designed the building, engineered the structure, developed the mechanical systems, and supervised the construction.
In the spring of 1929, the stock market was on the wildest binge it had ever known. Everyone was making money; however, there were some ominous signs. Construction was down. An uneasiness in foreign markets signaled the crash; and what a crash it was. Overnight, entire businesses were wiped out; Piers was no exception. His stately office atop the new Bank was closed. With the aid of his oldest son, he began to build a temporary office in the basement of his home. All the excavation was done by hand, the walls were formed, and the hand-mixed concrete was put into place. After a year of hard work, the project was complete with drafting room, private office, work shop, and dark room. It was a monumental task accomplished with limited funds and the sole aid of a 13 year old boy.
The depression deepened; bank after bank failed and closed their doors
In the winter of '32, soup lines were formed and fourteen million workers were unemployed.
The New Deal arrived in 1933 and a new president told the nation "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." N.I.R.A., W. P. A.,
P.W.A., and other programs were initiated to stem the ravaqes of depression Some worked - others failed; some were illegal, but the Roosevelt package of social reform had been accepted. The nation was recovering; for the first time, the Federal Government was the Architect's major client.
At first, jobs were scarce, but as the nation gained confidence building started its upward climb. Bureaus sprang up overnight; public works projects were advertized; and within a short time, commissions for schools, hospitals, prisons, reformatories and public buildings were up
for grabs. The competition was fierce and "bigness" brought big commissions The game of political football was on.
In the summer of 1935, Piers moved from his basement quarters to the Bank Building he had known so well. He had been awarded a few Federal projects, but the work was not the same. The order of the day was "Get the job out.' Employ some people! Complete the paper work! Make an impression!" This was a different kind of architectural excellence In
spite of governmental controls and political intervention, Piers successfully completed:
Boy's Dormitory - Deaf and Blind School Education Building - Industrial School North Ogden Junior High - Weber School District Utah State Tuberculosis Sanitarium - Ogden, Utah El Monte Golf House - Ogden City
As the nation approached the forties, new problems set in. The economy was in another decline, and public works were at a standstill. It would take a major war to avoid another depression. War was declared; the work had stopped and Piers returned to his hand-built office.
After two surgical operations and three years of inactivity, Piers was again at work; however, war, depression and sickness had tempered his spirit The last major works of Eber F. Piers, Architect and Engineer, were the Administration Building at the Ogden Airport, (a partially completed struc- ture), and the Weber County Memorial Auditorium,(a building never built due to
a lack in public support).
John L. Piers, the second son of Eber Piers, joined his father in partnership in the summer of 1952. He was confident that the dormant practice of his father could be revived. A new building boom was on.
was eager to make his contribution to the firm. As the office grew, the
work became plentiful - deadlines had to be met; draftsmen and consultants were hired to meet the demands of the times.
Eber Piers, the "total architect", who had singularly nurtured each project, found the fast pace and quick solutions of the fifties unsuited to his stylo. The work carried on, but the aging Architect, his health failing, retired to the solitude of his private office.
On December 20, 1961, Eber Piers died. He was 12.
It might be said that the life of Eber Piers was fraught with dis-appointments and misfortune. But this man of restless spirit found pleasure in the excitement of invention and creation of his buildings. Seemingly not a happy life, but for him, it was an enchanting way, full of wonder, self- fulfillment and appeal.
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