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Friends, colleagues remember late Hills town hall architect

Peter Duxbury
Courtesy of Jitze Couperus
Peter Duxbury, above left, from left, former Los Altos Hills County Fire District President David Bergman and former Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck attend building/planning technician Jeanne Evilsizer’s 2015 retirement party.

Taco Bell. La Quinta. La Quinta Motel, Los Angeles.

Los Altos Hills residents’ descriptions of their town hall’s proposed redesign ran the gamut, but they were anything but complimentary. 

“Many people were so disenchanted with it. It was terrible,” said resident Duffy Price. “It was not a Mission style, not an anything. It was just really ugly. The residents sort of rose up in protest.”

Today, however, they may extend much of their gratitude to architect Peter Duxbury for the rural, Mid-Century Modern structure that currently exists on Fremont Road. Mr. Duxbury, who died July 13 at age 69 following a battle with cancer, had worked with town leaders for years as his residential projects winded their way through the approval process. In 2003, they tapped his Los Altos-based business, Duxbury Architects, to design and build a state-of-the-art complex featuring seamless indoor-outdoor transitions and solar panels, one of the first such local buildings with the technology. The new town hall opened in 2005.

“We heard after it was built and they started having yoga classes in there; it really became a center of the community that it wasn’t before,” said Bill McIntosh, a principal of the firm, which is now known as Duxbury McIntosh Architects and based in Los Gatos, where Mr. Duxbury lived.

Los Altos Hills Town Hall
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Bay Area architect Peter Duxbury designed Los Altos Hills’ town hall, above.

A distinguished career

Peter Husted Duxbury was born in New York City but raised in Connecticut. He attended Syracuse University and graduated with a degree in architecture, which he initially used toward a commercial design career in New York and then with Gensler and Associates, a global architecture firm, in San Francisco, where he served as the project manager for the Levi Strauss corporate headquarters.

Work on the Measurex Corp. Employee Center in Cupertino brought Mr. Duxbury to the South Bay, and a Measurex executive’s subsequent request for Mr. Duxbury to design a house led to an interest in residential projects. In 1985, Duxbury Architects opened an office on First Street in Los Altos with the business focused on new home designs, additions and remodels in that city and within Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley.

Peter Duxbury
Courtesy of Deborah Padovan
Peter Duxbury with Los Altos Hills building/planning technician Jeanne Evilsizer at her 2015 retirement party.

Over his career, Mr. Duxbury completed more than 250 housing projects in the Bay Area and beyond.

“He definitely knew the difference between good architecture and bad architecture,” McIntosh said. “He believed in that – that whatever style you’re working in, that there’s the right way and the wrong way to do things. Or you don’t want to fake it. You want it to be authentic.”

Price and Hills leaders like Planning Commissioner Jitze Couperus credit Mr. Duxbury as an instrumental part in helping the town develop its design guidelines. In 2010, the city council adopted them into a “Fast Track Guide” meant to preserve the town’s semi-rural character; it helps those constructing new residences understand zoning ordinances and the town’s general plan so as to avoid conflict and costly redesigns.

Another notable contribution is Mr. Duxbury’s encouragement to permit applicants that they speak to their neighbors before undertaking construction, Price said. She served on the committee that worked with Mr. Duxbury on town hall’s serpentine-shaped donor wall, and he advised her about her own home’s redesign.

Mr. Duxbury’s sage advice “saved gobs of mitigation issues and solved extreme going back and redoing the plan a dozen times; it was very helpful to talk to your neighbors first so that you would design the house to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.

Service to community

A proponent of preserving architectural history, Mr. Duxbury was among those who advocated for and financially supported the renovation of a 1930s-era Los Altos cottage designed by famed architect Richard J. Neutra. In November 2005, the cottage was relocated from Marvin Avenue to Hillview Avenue, where it is now known as the Neutra House Conference Center.

Peter Duxbury
Courtesy of Bill McIntosh
Peter Duxbury provides instruction at a Los Altos architectural design camp.

Mr. Duxbury shared his expertise with an architectural design camp that began operating out of the Neutra House circa 2012, said King Lear, a former Los Altos mayor who spearheaded the building’s preservation effort. The one-week program introduced students in grades 7-9 to concepts such as interior design, landscaping and civil engineering. Mr. Duxbury and his staff volunteered as lecturers and also provided the children with tours of their office, where they displayed models of past projects.

“Peter had an unusual, I think really nice, community benefit side to him,” Lear said. “I mean, he was a great architect and a great businessperson, but he really loved the community. Even though he lived in Los Gatos, he was very helpful to the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills communities.”

Mr. Duxbury’s legacy with Los Altos Hills continues; the town hired Duxbury McIntosh Architects to design a floor plan for the upcoming town hall expansion, and the Los Altos Hills City Council and Planning Commission approved it in 2019.

Bay Area firm M. Sandoval Architects Inc. has been awarded phase 1 of the project, the enclosure of a patio behind the council chambers to create a 395-square-foot meeting space, and is in the process of developing construction drawings, town principal planner Steve Padovan confirmed last week. He said town staff have prepared a request for proposals to solicit construction drawings for phase 2, a 2,000-square-foot addition on the south side of the property, which will go out to interested parties in the coming weeks.

Mr. Duxbury is survived by his wife of 34 years, Kathy, his only child, Elizabeth, and his son-in-law, Noe. Elizabeth and Noe married in June, with Mr. Duxbury delivering the wedding toast and paying a tribute to every guest.

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