John Yeon: Unsung Visionary

  Watzek House

A recent lecture at the AHC by LeLand Roth, Professor of Architecture at U of O and a bow-tied Randy Gragg, editor of Portland Spaces, really made into flesh this remarkable Portland native. Not only did he design homes and their gardens, at the end of his career he designed installation spaces for museums. This is not so surprising as John eschewed the modern European model of great open interior spaces, choosing instead to lay out the home on various axis, so one could move from room to room creating an experience or a "sequence of revelations."  He had a profound respect for the relationship of the home to it's site so it became an enhancement to the natural landscape and allow the residents to enjoy the landscape from the home, a mutual benefit.

Though not technically an architect, John Yeon designed 14 residences in the Portland area. One on SW Fairway known as Dr. Swan's home, was luckily on the most recent Street of Eames Tour. Another known as the Watzek House, was and is internationally recognized as a groundbreaking NW Contemporary style and has been featured in the Museum of Modern Art and numerous publications. Some of the innovations in this 1936 home were a natural ventilation system, double paned windows and an interior courtyard that created a micro climate for more delicate plants.

Yeon was one of the earliest stewards of the Oregon landscape when at age 21 he bought Chapman Point which looks towards Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, by cashing in on an insurance policy to save a dance hall from being built on it. Much later in life, he bought 75 acres on the Washington side of the gorge, saving the direct view of Multnomah Falls from looking at a probable industrial site. He then landscaped the area known as "The Shire"  over the course of three decades in a naturalistic manner to provide even more striking views of the falls. It is said that a visit to this area by Nancy Russell was an impetus for her creating Friends of the Gorge, saving it from development. John had made several appointments for Nancy and her husband to visit The Shire, only to cancel them. When at last the appointment was kept, and a full moon rose over the gorge on a lovely temperate evening, Nancy believed that John had simply been waiting for all the elements to be in place for the perfect viewing.

Both The Shire and the Watzek house have been donated to the University of Oregon by the John Yeon Trust. Hopefully there will be an upcoming book about this remarkable man. 

View more pictures of the Watzek and Swan homes.