OBITUARY: Architect and author Earl Nisbet, June 17, 1926-Feb. 20, 2013

By David M. Kinchen
Earl Nisbet
Earl Nisbet
It's with great sadness that I report the death of my friend Earl Nisbet of Aptos, Santa Cruz County, California on Feb. 20, 2013 at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto CA.  Although I never met Earl, I grew to know him through our email conversations about architecture and the state of the world in general. I learned about this native Californian -- he was born in 1926 in San Jose -- and student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright through my review of a book he wrote about Wright. Here's a link to my review, which includes some biographical info about this "FLW Apprentice" as his email handle reads:

Here's the brief biography posted on "Earl Nisbet was born and grew up in San Jose, California. He studied architectural engineering at Heald College in San Francisco following military service in World War II. He worked as a carpenter in San Mateo after the war. When he learned of an experimental project under construction by four former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentices in Woodside, he offered his services in the construction of the Midglen House. Inspired by the dedication of the young apprentices at Midglen, he visited Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, and was apprenticed from 1951 through 1953. Following apprenticeship, he worked for San Jose architect Goodwin Steinberg, and afterward traveled to Tahiti, finally setting up his own office in Honolulu, Hawaii. Returning to California he executed commissions for a number of residences on the San Francisco Peninsula. Nisbet has contributed several of his Taliesin Reflections to the Northern California Taliesin Fellows Newsletter wherein he recounts, with humor, the day-to-day life at Taliesin. He cites his relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright as the great experience of his life. He now lives and works in Aptos, California."   I was notified about Earl's death from his friend Michael McMenemy, who sent this message to Earl's friends: 

As many of you know, our dear friend Earl Nisbet passed away from us February 20 at 12:30p at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto.  It was only discovered recently that he had a major malignant tumor in his colon.  The doctors gave him 2+ weeks, and we had him with us for four weeks.

 I can't say enough about how wonderful the VA was to Earl, and to us during this time.  For those of you who don't know Earl was a WW2 veteran serving in Europe towards the end of the war.  From the moment we walked in I heard them say several times, "You fought for us, now we're going to fight for you!"  It's a marvelous institution.  They gave Earl a private room with a beautiful view of the Stanford hills, and in his last days he sat looking out the window at that gorgeous view.

I was with him when he died.  He felt no pain, and there was no suffering.  He was completely at peace.  It's comforting for me to know that he was at peace, and is now.  He lived a good life, and was content.  Earl was the sweetest man I knew, and I will miss him very much.

He requested that there be no memorial service, and his ashes spread at the Golden Gate in San Francisco.  We plan on honoring him at a Remembrance Day for us beginning at 6:30pm Saturday, April 13th at a bonfire at Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz at the end of 7th Avenue, South of the boat harbor.  The link is below, or cut and paste into your map browser:,+East+Cliff+Drive,+Santa+Cruz,+CA&hl=en&ll=36.966455,-121.997466&spn=0.014196,0.030556&sll=37.269174,-119.306607&sspn=7.237471,15.644531&oq=Twin+Lakes+&t=h&hq=Twin+Lakes+State+Beach,&hnear=E+Cliff+Dr,+Santa+Cruz,+California&z=15&iwloc=A

We'll be burning prayers, momentos, and thoughts up to Earl, and sending sky lanterns up as well.  Feel free to bring what you think he would love to add to the bonfire.  You're all welcome to come, and we'd love to visit with you there.

Please feel free to pass this on to others that may be interested.  Earl's obituary will also be in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this Friday, and Saturday.  There may be an online remembrance album, but I don't have the particulars on that yet.  If you have any questions, please contact me through this email address.

Best to you all!  --Michael 

Responding to Michael's email, Tony Nisbet, a cousin living in Scotland wrote this

Hi Michael & all

I am devastated to learn of Earl's death. I had been emailing him since the new year and was concerned that I had no reply.

I have just returned to Scotland yesterday from Mauritius where I attended my Mother in Law's memorial ceremony and will it will now prove difficult for me to attend the ceremony.

I will be eternally grateful if someone would send a sky lantern with my name on it and a wee message addressed to my special Cuz (which is how he signed the emails)

The only momentos I have of Earl are books, emails, letters and cards and are precious to me so I will send a sky lantern up at the same time. I guess they will be sent about an hour or so after the bonfire starts and so I will arrange to be at one of my local Castle's most probably  Drumlanrig Castle at 11.30 am.

Please feel free to share any memories anyone of you have of Cuz Earl and contact me at anytime.

Kind Regards

Tony Nisbet

4 Scroggie Meadow
DG12 6DY

tel: +0044 7762750401   Here's the obit to be published March 29 in the Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel:
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