George C. Izenour Dies at 94
George C. Izenour, born on July 24, 1912 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. As he recalled, "I was born in a little town in the Beaver valley of Pennsylvania about 30 miles west of Pittsburgh; New Brighton. My father was a small electrical contractor. We moved in the third year of World War I to Ambridge, a company town closer to Pittsburgh adjacent to the Conway railway yards in 1917. In 1918, the last year of the war my father moved us to Mansfield, Ohio. I was six years old at the time and I started my formal schooling there."
Jeffrey Milet, professor of theatre at Lehigh University, and a member of George C. Izenour Associates, said, "I had my first encounter (you didn't just meet Dr. Izenour, you encountered him) with Izenour in 1966, standing in a line of first year Yale Drama School design/technical students at the rear of the drama school stage, when he pulled me out of line and instructed me to stand under a sandbag that was attached to a line coming from a synchronous winch mounted on the grid 75' above my feet and resting 4' above my head. I stood there as my classmates watched the sandbag fly out, stop and on command, start down toward me at speed, and stop at the exact same 4' spot it had started at. Little did I know then that I would be sitting in a room on March 24, 2007 in a private hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania watching this same special man sleeping for the last time.
"George began his formal schooling at the age of six in Mansfield, Ohio. It was because of a condition known as Keratoconis, a non-spherical deformation of the cornea of the eye, that George's early education was augmented by his parents at home. His mother taught him English and Latin and his father history and mathematics. George's interest in theatre and music started early. He once told me that, 'I would have liked to have been an opera singer but I didn't have the talent.' He appeared in all of the Mansfield Senior High School plays. He painted the scenery for them and became increasingly interested in the technical aspects of theatre.
"George excelled in high school and attended Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio. His mother, being an ardent Lutheran, sent him to Wittenberg hoping that he would become a preacher. He acted in plays his first two years and became a student fencing coach. When President Roosevelt closed the banks, George's father lost his business and George took on the responsibility for the rest of his education. He graduated from Wittenberg College in 1934 and pursued his master's degree in physics there. His thesis was the embodiment of what would later become the first electronic theatre lighting dimming system at Yale.
In his first class at Wittenberg, and since the professor sat his students in alphabetical order, he was placed next to Hildegard Hilt. After graduation, they married and moved to California, where George, through a series of happenstances, met Hallie Flanagan, the national director of the Federal Theatre. George became the lighting director of the project and later designed their theatre at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in January of 1939. In San Francisco, he crossed paths with David H. Stevens of the Rockefeller Foundation who, after seeing George's work, convinced him to apply for a grant. George was made a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation ten days after the House Un-American Activities Committee declared all of the members of the Federal Theatre Communists, effectively closing the Federal Theatre. George landed at Yale, with his Rockefeller grant, where he developed the Electro-Mechanical Laboratory in an abandoned squash court at the Yale School of Drama annex.
"The Izenours' son, Steven, a world renowned architect and artist, was born in New Haven in July of 1940. At the same time, George designed and began building the first electronic control system for theatre lighting for the Yale School of Drama theatre.
"During World War II George worked on antisubmarine warfare and countermeasures for proximity fuses at a government lab in Long Island, New York.
"After the war he returned to Yale where he built and installed several dimming systems out of the squash court at Yale. Ed Kook, of Century Lighting, became interested in the system. George refused to sell the patents he had acquired and Century took a license to produce the Century-Izenour System. This business deal led to a life-long friendship between the Izenours and the Kooks. The synchronous winch system followed the lighting system and so on through over 27 patents.
"What was to be ostensibly his first theatre consulting job began with a phone call from McGeorge Bundy, the then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Archibald MacLeish had written a program for a new theatre there which was to be a gift from the Loeb family. MacLeish wanted the theatre to convert from proscenium to thrust because these were, according to MacLeish, the two great forms of theatre, which had to do with western culture. Of course, this idea of changing one theatre space back and forth between thrust and proscenium was deemed 'impossible' by the experts at the time. George, of course made it work. It was published in all of the architectural magazines and launched George C. Izenour Associates as a theatre design and acoustical consulting firm. Today, Izenour theatres exist across the United States, in Canada, Venezuela, and Israel.
"George retired from Yale, professor emeritus, in the late '60ws and continued his consulting business at 16 Flying Point Road Stony Creek, Connecticut in an old converted oyster shack next to his home overlooking the Thimble Islands. The house was designed by his son, Steven Izenour, and won national recognition. George and Hildegard lived there until her death in 2002. Until Saturday last George was a resident at Cathedral Village in Philadelphia where he continued to work on theatre design projects.
"George C. Izenour Associates will continue his tradition of designing cost effective, acoustically and visually excellent multiple use performing arts facilities. His latest inspiration, the design of a 21s-century dynamically engineered performing arts facility, which embodies all of the proven technologies he inspired (and some new ones) over the years into one innovative, state-of-the-art facility for the new millennium, has yet to be realized."