Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Long Strange Trip - Part 2

I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in June of 1974 with a Bachelor of Architecture.

Another recession, so I decided to try to live where it would be pleasant, even if I didn't have a job.

I moved to South Lake Tahoe onto a couch of a friends house and started to look for work. Within three days I found work with a retired architect. We did one house together and he had no more work. Winter was approaching and I had no money. I decided to apply at the casinos for work and was hired by Harrah's. I carried thirty pounds of coins in an apron and made change for the slot machines. Yes, you actually could put coins in the machines! After three months I realized that I was going nowhere and headed back to San Luis Obispo

I did find work at a Civil Engineering and Surveying office for $4/hour. I stayed for about nine months. In the Whole Earth Catalog, I saw a book that was for Owner-Builders, written by a man named Ken Kern. He lived in the Sierra Nevadas at about 5,000 ft. elevation outside of Fresno. I wrote Ken and asked if he needed help and he said "come on up".

Ken Kern, author, builder, mason and surveyor

Ken had written two books by then - the Owner Built Home and the Owner Built Homestead.


Besides writing and selling books, Ken would answer questions and even give you a sketch through the mail for $10 !! If you were then interested, he would actually draw up plans for your owner-built home. That's where I came in.

He lived in Alder Springs, a bend in the bypassed old road heading up to Shaver Lake. I stayed in an old mobile home. Ken lived with his wife Barbara and two sons and a daughter in the remodeled house nearby. I stayed up there until I left to live with what would be my future wife.

Ken passed away some years later after a beam collapsed and fell on him.


One of the houses I helped draw up was for a single young woman in Salem, Oregon named Eleanor. She believed she could build a small house and actually did it ! She kept in touch with letters, photos and slides describing the whole process.

In future posts, I'll tell her tale.

. . .


  1. I love this. Thank you for sharing a part of your life so elegantly. Can't wait for the next installment.

  2. i own several of the kern's books, one having been passed down to me by my father-in-law. On the inside of one book, ken calls himself an "anarcho-decentralist". I identify with anarchism as a historical movement and as a personal framework and am interested in its relavence for ken. Can you speak to this? thank you chad



Recommended Books

  • - Precedents in Architecture
  • - City Comforts
  • - A Pattern Language
  • - The Architecture of Happiness
  • - Architectural Composition
  • - Design Language
  • - Elements of Garden Design
  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace