Remembering John Kenyon, architect, painter, city planner

He was born in England but moved to the U.S. in 1954 to work as an architect. He was also known for his stunning notecards and his many commentaries on architecture in the local papers.

John Kenyon
February 7, 1927–July 11, 2020.

Well-known in the Bay Area for his stunning notecards such as “Panorama from Indian Rock” and his many commentaries on architecture in the local papers, John Kenyon died at home, surrounded by family, on July 11.

Painter, writer, architect, teacher, and city planner, John Kenyon was born in Bury, Lancashire, 10 miles north of Manchester, England. Family and friends in England always called him “Jack.” His father had a shop selling working men’s clothing, and his mother was a housewife. After serving in the Royal Navy, John received his Diploma in Architecture in 1952 from the University of Manchester and was awarded associate membership in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which he maintained for the rest of his life.

Always a lover of all things nautical, John sailed to America on the Queen Mary in 1954.  Not wanting to work in New York City, he went north to Rochester, New York. There he found work in an architecture firm and met his wife to be, Jeanne Ludmann, a primary school teacher.

John and Jeanne came to the Bay Area in 1956 but soon headed for Moscow, Idaho, where John taught architectural design for two years at the University of Idaho. The University of Oregon was his next teaching venue. In Eugene, they made lifelong friends and had their third child, Alan, joining children Katy and Sarah.

The Bay Area, however, was always beckoning. The family moved permanently to Berkeley in 1963. (John lived in Berkeley for a time in 1959). For the city of Oakland, John, as a planner, chose a particular shade of green for certain lampposts in the city center which may still be seen bearing that color.

John ultimately became a planner for the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, where he had much to do with the Marina Bay Park. His ideal would have been to have a memorial smokestack from a WWII Liberty Ship in the park center to honor the historic shipbuilding site.

Outside of his official working life, John was always busy capturing the Bay Area landscape with drawings, paintings, photographs, and print- and card-making. Sometimes his combined talents appeared together as in several of his critiques of architecture in the East Bay Express (then under the editorship of John Raeside).  Always thinking of his next “color card” as he called them (although he also had black-and-white cards), John had a quirky fascination with dinosaurs which popped up in a couple of his productions, one being a view of Lake Merritt with the Normandie sinking alongside a baby dinosaur.

A drawing by John Kenyon.

In everyday social life, John loved talking about everything imaginable – books, poetry, painters, architecture, trees and plants and current events.  He was an advocate of street trees for almost every neighborhood, and he had extensive knowledge of the East Bay neighborhoods. Walking down the street he would stop and talk to people he met along the way to comment on their gardens or particular plants that he admired. He maintained friendships with several of his old classmates from architecture school in Manchester and traveled to England periodically throughout the years.


John loved music. A few lessons on the piano as a boy stood him in good stead all his life. He loved breaking into song at any occasion (appropriately, of course), and he and Jeanne made music lessons important for their children.

He had intense feelings about architecture, being a lifelong fan of LeCorbusier. He’d visited Ronchamp and several other sites of Le Corbusier’s buildings. John disliked the redesign of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art so much that he contacted Mario Botta – the original architect of the museum – and Botta responded with much appreciation.

John’s productive life was stymied by the gradual onset of Alzheimer’s in his last few years, but he was well looked after by his family and caregivers.

Although John’s by then ex-wife Jeanne predeceased him, he leaves behind his devoted children, Katy (John Abel), Sarah (Robert Naumann), and Alan (Annie Zhong), and grandchildren Sarah Abel Orre (Kristofer), Carrie Abel Shaffer (Alex), Scott Abel, Alan Kenyon Jr., and Eugene Kenyon. Great-grandchildren are Ella, Alana and Evelyn Orre. Also surviving him are his nephew James Barden of Pembrokeshire, Wales, who is the father of John’s grand-niece Hollie Bonneville Barden and grand-nephew George Barden, both of whom now have their own families.

Also surviving John is his longtime companion of 20 years, Susan Gordon. Her daughters Ann Pierovich (Mike Monson) and Amy Pierovich Leone (Joe) adored him, too. Newer friend Patty Brown also enhanced his last few years.

The family is especially grateful to the caregivers and staff of Easy Does It, whose attentive, loving care made it possible for John to remain at home.

No memorial for John is planned because of COVID-19. The family hopes to hold a celebration of his life when it is safe.