Some people say I live in the past, but I say the past lives in me.Richard Sundeleaf
Richard Wilhelm Sundeleaf (1900-1987) is considered one of Oregon’s most significant, versatile, and prolific architects. His career spanned from the 1920s to the 1980s and his portfolio spans some 3,000 projects. Sundeleaf was a Portland native and a 1923 graduate of the University of Oregon school of architecture. He lived in Lake Oswego from 1940 until his death in 1987.
Sundeleaf was most noted for his Arts and Crafts residential design, which emphasized simplicity, open floor plans with built-ins, exposed beams, strong posts, and the use of native woods and locally-sourced stone and brick. He used nature as an inspiration for his design. Many of the residences he designed in the 1930s and 40s were Arts and Crafts. Many of his home designs in the 1950s and 60s were NW Contemporary, a style that limits frills and ornamentation and keeps design minimalistic and functional.
Trained in the style of Beaux Arts, which emphasized the classic elements of early western European architecture, Sundeleaf later transitioned to the Streamline Moderne style, which was influenced by the machine age and used the concepts of aerodynamics to shape the design of a building (think a combo of art deco and large rounded corners).
Sundeleaf built many residences in Lake Oswego throughout his career as well as numerous community, educational and commercial buildings. A few buildings in Lake Oswego that Sundeleaf designed include the Lake Theater complex, Lake Grove Fire Station, Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, and Lake Grove Grade School.
Left, a classic Sundeleaf. Sieberts House, 1937 (demolished)
Several of Sundleaf’s buildings and homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including the:
- Dr. Walter Black House (Lake Oswego, 1933)
- Jantzen Estate Boathouse (Lake Oswego, 1931)
- Clarence Francis House (Milwaukie, 1938)
- Paul F. Murphy House (Portland, 1934)
- E.J. O’Donnell House (Portland, 1938)
- Chi Psi Fraternity House (Eugene, 1935)
- Wilson-Chambers Mortuary (Little Chapel of the Chimes) (Portland, 1932)
He built his own residence in Lake Oswego in 1942 on Phantom Bluff Court, choosing the location for its natural beauty with sweeping views of the lake, an abundance of trees, and basalt rocks. Sundeleaf believed that architectural styles “arise from the earth. Clay for tiles and walls, like in the Mediterranean style, England had wood and brick, Normandy more rocks and less timber. You use what is available to make the style indigenous.” Sundeleaf demonstrated strong intention to tie materials, views, and the land surrounding a house into its design.
When asked in an interview with the Oregon Historical Society what sparked his interest in architecture he replied that it might have been when he was 12 or 13 and his parents decided to make changes to their Sellwood home. Sundeleaf said that he was intrigued by the blueprints and how those could be used by a carpenter to alter a house. In the same interview he admitted that he had never seen an architect’s office until he showed up to work at the A.E. Doyle architectural firm after graduating with his degree. Sundeleaf later started his own architecture firm in 1928 and said that he worked for 17 years without a draftsman. He claimed that he never showed a client the exterior of a house, only the floor plans because, he said, “the exterior would be good if the plans were good.”