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Utah’s first person of color licensed as an architect designed the soaring roof of St. Ann’s and the imposing State Office Building

World War II veteran William Wing Louie was one of the seven members of the first graduating class of the University of Utah’s School of Architecture.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) St. Ann Catholic Church on 2100 South and 500 East, one of the Salt Lake City buildings designed by architect William Wing Louie, who died April 21, 2021, at age 98.

William Wing Louie, a pioneering architect in Utah who designed grandly inspiring churches and modern office buildings, has died.

Louie — a World War II veteran and the first person of color to be licensed as an architect in Utah — died Wednesday, April 21, his family said. He was 98.

Possibly Louie’s best-known design is the soaring triangular walls and sloping roof of St. Ann Catholic Church, on 2100 South in Salt Lake City.

“He considered that his finest work, design-wise,” said his daughter, Maria Louie, who followed her father into architecture. She said her father, a lifelong Roman Catholic, became a parishioner at St. Ann’s once the building was completed.

“It emulates, in an abstract form, the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, where your eyes are raised up to God,” his daughter said. “It has those elements of Gothic cathedrals, but he did it in a truly Modernist way.”

St. Ann’s was constructed in 1968. According to Maria Louie, it was one of the first Catholic churches built in Utah after the Second Vatican Council, the landmark effort to update the church’s traditional practices.

Louie also designed the houses of worship for Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Fairpark neighborhood, St. Therese of the Child in Midvale; and St. Francis Xavier in Kearns — as well as school buildings for other parishes.

One of the largest office blocks Louie designed was the Utah State Office Building, completed in 1960, across the central plaza from the Utah Capitol. Another is the former Utah Power and Light building on 100 South and Regent Street, which has been repurposed.

Louie also designed the Salt Lake County Library’s Tyler Branch in Midvale, the Holladay Branch (which reopened last year after a remodel), and the old Kearns branch, which was torn down to make way for a new building that opened in February.

Louie designed the State Office Building for the architectural firm Scott and Beecher, where he got his first job out of college. When founding partner Carl W. Scott died in 1959, his son Walter Scott offered Louie a partnership, and the firm became Scott and Louie, with William Browning as an associate; the firm became Scott, Louie & Browning in 1966.

Louie retired from the firm in 1990. Four years later, Scott and Browning merged the firm with MHTN, which remains one of Salt Lake City’s larger architectural firms.

William Louie “definitely was a Modern architect all the way around,” said Maria’s husband, Jim Kier, who also is an architect. For Louie, though, Modernism didn’t mean sterile boxes.

“My dad’s buildings had warmth, with the materials he used,” Maria Louie said. “[He was] bringing in the light, with the glass. And the proportions … didn’t overshadow the person using the building, and it didn’t dwarf them.”

Also, Maria Louie said, “my dad didn’t push his own design agenda. He designed as according to what the client requested and what the function of the building was.”

For example, she said, Louie designed buildings for the Alta ski resort, “a very traditional ski resort, based in European tradition,” she said. Her father followed that tradition, she said, even though “that was not my dad’s style. But it worked for Alta.”

Later buildings Louie designed for Alta, such as Alf’s Restaurant, were more in line with his Modernism, “maximizing the view of the mountain,” Maria said.

Louie, his daughter said, also was an early proponent of passive solar energy, orienting windows to catch the sun for warmth and light.

But he didn’t shine the spotlight on himself, Maria said. “He was a very humble man,” his daughter said. “He was self-effacing, and always diverted attention from him to someone else.”

William Wing Louie was born Jan. 18, 1923, in Ogden, to Wing Louie and May Szto Shee, one of 10 children. After high school, he worked at Hill Air Force Base until, at 19, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Louie was stationed in England, France and Germany, serving as an instrument mechanic with the 354th “Pioneer Mustang” Fighter Group, the first to fly P-51 Mustangs in combat — escorting gliders over Normandy on D-Day, and flying with bombers on runs into Germany. Louie added his artwork to the planes’ nose cones and the pilots’ leather jackets. When he was painting a mural in a mess hall, someone suggested he take up architecture, a profession he had never considered before.

After the war, Louie enrolled at the University of Utah, under the GI Bill. He was one of the seven members of the first graduating class of the U.’s School of Architecture, in 1951. He was hired by Stone and Beecher soon after graduation.

In 1946, Louie met Merrie Okamura. They were married Oct. 19, 1951, in the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. They raised two sons and five daughters. Merrie died in 2006.

In 1957, he received his license from the state of Utah to be an architect — the first Asian American and person of color to do so. The next year, Louie became a partner in his firm, which over the next 40 years designed some 250 buildings.

In 2009, Louie received the American Institute of Architects’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In September 2019, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the U.’s College of Architecture + Planning.

Louie is survived by his seven children — Gordon (Sharon), Kenneth (Janet), Maria (Jim Kier), Cindy (Dan) Kaschmitter, Lisa (Paul Cisneros), Teresa (Richard) Leigh, and Melanie — as well as 10 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. His wife, Merrie, died previously, as did his five brothers and four sisters.

A private funeral mass will be held Wednesday, April 28, at St. Ann’s. The family suggests donations be made to St. Ann Catholic Church, 2119 S. 400 East, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84115.

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