John S. Detlie, 96; Architect, Hollywood Movie-Set Designer

Associated Press
Sunday, December 4, 2005

John S. Detlie, 96, a Hollywood set designer, a former husband of movie star Veronica Lake, and an architect who led the effort to camouflage the Boeing airplane factory during World War II, died Nov. 30 in Westlake Village, Calif. He had lung cancer.

Born in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1908, John Stewart Detlie earned architecture degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1932 and 1933. After graduation, he moved to Hollywood to work in the movie industry. In 1940, he was nominated for an Oscar for his work as production designer on the film "Bitter Sweet," starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Mr. Detlie left Hollywood's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in 1942 to manage the camouflage project as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers.

To confuse enemy bombers, Boeing Aircraft camouflaged nearly 26 acres of the plant in Seattle, where the B-17 and, later, the B-29 were built. Boeing's Plant 2 was covered with a three-dimensional wire, plywood and canvas structure that was made to look like a town, including trees, houses and schools, instead of a wartime airplane factory.

After the war, Mr. Detlie joined the architecture firm that hired him to do the camouflage project. He eventually became a partner there.

Mr. Detlie was a pioneer in the Seattle arts movement in the 1950s, retired newspaperman Lou Guzzo said. He was a member of the Beer & Culture Society, a small group of academics, architects and artists who later formed Allied Arts of Seattle.

He was the first president of this advocacy group for urban design and the arts. The group pressured the Seattle City Council to create a Municipal Arts Commission, which laid the groundwork for building the Seattle Center and hosting the 1962 World's Fair.

Mr. Detlie designed a number of Seattle buildings, including Children's Orthopedic Hospital, several University of Washington buildings and Temple De Hirsch.

Mr. Detlie and his second wife, Virginia, to whom he was married for 59 years, left Seattle after the drowning death of their 3-year-old son, Christopher. Mr. Detlie went on to become a noted architect in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Honolulu before he retired near Palm Springs 30 years ago.

Mr. Detlie, who designed many churches and other religious buildings, wrote and lectured on religious architecture.

Besides his second wife, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Ani Sangge Lhamo, of New Zealand; and two children from his second marriage, Holly Allarcon and John Stewart Detlie Jr., both of California.

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