Fresno architect Bill Patnaude remembered for futuristic City Hall, historical preservation

Architect William Patnaude with his early model of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum expansion project.
Architect William Patnaude with his early model of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum expansion project. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Fresno architect William “Bill” Patnaude died Friday at age 78, leaving behind an indelible footprint on the city and its architecture, both past and future.

Mr. Patnaude was best known for working with Canadian architect Arthur Erickson on designing the new Fresno City Hall, which replaced the old building in 1991. The $28 million project was seen as not just a mass of steel and glass, but as a monument to Fresno and the future.

The building, which was described as part office building, part sculpture with its sweeping lines, was a pinnacle of Mr. Patnaude’s career.

“As an architect, you leave a lot  behind you,” Mr. Patnaude said then. “I always went after it with the intent of leaving something to the city.”

The City Hall project wasn’t the only legacy for Mr. Patnaude. He designed numerous buildings throughout Fresno through Lew & Patnaude Inc., an architectural firm started with Allen Lew in 1961.

Mr. Patnaude had a stroke a year ago and had been in ill health ever since, his son Matthew Patnaude said.

Mr. Patnaude and the firm received multiple honors for buildings that include Fresno State’s Student Union and the original wing of the Henry Madden Library, the renovation of the Fresno Republican building into the Downtown Club, the Fresno Yosemite International Airport’s concourse addition, the expansion of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum and the Clovis Civic Center.

Mr. Patnaude was born Sept. 24, 1937 and raised on a dairy farm near the small Fresno County town of Minkler, east of Fresno. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley School of Architecture in 1961.

Mr. Patnaude served as the San Joaquin chapter president of the American Institute of Architects in 1978 and later became president of the institute’s California Council in 1982. He also was named to the institute’s College of Fellows in 1984 in recognition of contributions to the profession.

From 1967 to 1980, Mr. Patnaude taught art, architectural history and history of urban design at Fresno State. He also was the Campus Consulting Architect for the university from 1968 to 2005.

Matthew Patnaude remembered that his father was driven and focused on architecture. He also remembered him for being brutally honest, someone who invariably gave an unvarnished opinion.

“When he had something good to say, it was the truth,” Matthew Patnaude said.

Mr. Patnaude and Allen Lew moved their business to the Rehorn Home at Mariposa and S streets in 1976, restoring it for use as an architectural office.

Mr. Patnaude said in 2004 that it took two years, working “every night and every weekend,” to restore the home, which was built around 1906 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “There was a major amount of utility work.”

The radiator heating system was ripped out and replaced with a new heating and air-conditioning system. Over the years, the wood floorboards downstairs had been sanded down so far they could not be salvaged, so new parquet flooring was installed. Paneling in the hallways replaced crumbling walls.

Mr. Patnaude says he restored the Rehorn home “because it has character and it has beauty. It was an opportunity to save a building and wind up with a beautiful place to work.”

Sadly, a five-alarm fire in February reduced the Rehorn Home to rubble, destroying Mr. Patnaude’s offices and historical documentation, including many city records.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and her family knew Mr. Patnaude personally. She said he was one of the first people they met when they moved to Fresno in 1987.

“His professional impact on Fresno has been quite significant,” Swearengin said. “He elevated the profession of architecture and design.”

His legacy, Fresno City Hall, will be “experienced and enjoyed by Fresnans for many years to come,” she said.

Gigi Pavlovich, Mr. Patnaude’s longtime companion, remembered how he would talk about how the history of human life was evident in architecture.

“Walking through virtually any city with Bill was taking a tour through the history of architecture,” Pavlovich said. “He could point out how architecture reflected the changes in human life and how (those changes) were reflected in architecture.

“He believed architecture could reflect the best in human engineering and artistic thought of the past and point the way toward the future,” Pavlovich said. “He always stated public spaces could be inspirational and functional at its best, architecture could inspire us to our highest discourse and behavior.”

Paul Schlesinger: 559-441-6659, @PaulSch_Photog

William ‘Bill’ Patnaude

Born: Sept. 24, 1937

Died: March 11, 2016

Occupation: Architect

Survivors: Sons Matthew and Nathaniel Patnaude, granddaughter Sydney Patnaude, and his former wife Mary Patnaude

Services: To be announced

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