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NOCA MODERN Architect Detail

Body of Work:
Ernest and Esther Born House

(1902-1987) Esther Frances Baum was born in Palo Alto, CA and grew up in Piedmont, CA, graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1920, and enrolled in architecture at the University of California at Berkeley where she studied under Professor John Galen Howard. She graduated in 1924 and stayed on for two additional years of graduate studies. At the University, she met architecture student Ernest Born (BA 1922, MA 1923) whom she later married. Their careers were closely linked yet independent as she excelled in architectural photography and later took over the management of the Born architectural firm.

In the mid 1930s, Esther traveled to Mexico to study and photograph historic and modern art and architecture. Her outstanding photographs, not only of architecture but also portraits, were published in 1937 as “The New Architecture in Mexico” in The Architectural Record and as a book by William Morrow & Co. In 1937 the Borns moved back to California where he established his architecture firm in San Francisco. Esther gave birth to their daughter and continued pursuing photography with two major projects: the Hanna House in Palo Alto by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.

During the war, Esther worked for the San Francisco Housing Authority with Co- Director John Bolles on the acquisition of sites for the construction of wartime housing, while Ernest was involved in a government project in Brazil and the US. After the war, Esther actively participated in the architectural firm of her husband.

Their own house (1950) in San Francisco close to the Pacific Ocean was designed collaboratively with Esther as associate architect. Although it was a small wood-clad house, its two-story living room surprises with its spacious and generous interiorThe modern façade along the Great Highway with only a few openings was nicknamed “Born’s Barn” by some neighbors.

Esther died in 1987 in San Diego, where she and Ernest lived in their retirement near their daughter and her family.


Archival Collections of Photographic Images by Esther Born:

Canadian Center of Architecture, Montreal, Photos of Architecture in Mexico;

Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley, Photos of the Golden Gate International Exposition;


“Offices and Tasting Room for Bates & Schoonmaker, New York,” Ernest Born, architect, photographs by Esther Born, Architectural Forum, September 1935, pp. 187–194; and also in Architectural Review, March 1937, V. 81, pp. 128–31.

Born, Esther, Justino Fernandez and Ernest Born, “The New Architecture in Mexico,” Architectural Record, April 1937, V. 81, pp. 1–86.

Hanna, Paul and Jean S. Hanna, and Frank Lloyd Wright, “Honeycomb House by Frank Lloyd Wright,” photographs by Esther Born, Architectural Record, July 1938, V. 84, pp. 5, 7, 60–74.

“AIA Exhibit of Architecture,” Ernest Born architect, photographs by Esther Born, Architectural Forum, 1938, V. 69, pp. 468–69.

“To the Historians of Architectural America,” Architectural Forum, Oct. 1940, V. 73, pp. 90–91.

Wheeler, Joseph Lewis, The American Public Library Building, New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1941, p. 10.

Heynen, Hilde, Gulsum Baydar, Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture, New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 224.



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