His legacy is all around

Donald McLean Williamson 1913 – 2010

Architect who served on playhouse and festival boards also designed many building that are still standing, including El Morro Elementary School and Security Pacific Bank.

July 29, 2010|By Barbara Diamond,
  • Don Williamson
Don Williamson (Coastline Pilot )

Donald McLean Williamson, an architect whose works included Tivoli Terrace and the Forum Theater on the Festival of Arts grounds, died July 23 in his home after a long illness. He was 96.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Forum Theater, followed by a reception at Tivoli Terrace.

He came to Laguna Beach in 1949 with his wife and their two children. There were two other architects in Laguna when the Williamsons arrived with daughter Jennie and son Doug in a Ford station wagon.

"It was a young man's dream, with everything before him," said daughter Jennie Riker of Laguna Beach. "A landscape to frame beautiful homes, a town to be loved and well-tended."

Donald Williamson's first architectural project was the Security Pacific Bank on Forest Avenue. He also designed El Morro Elementary School, buildings still standing on the Festival of Arts grounds and many private homes, including the family's first home on Park Avenue.


In 1957, Donald Williamson designed the Festival of Arts dining pavilion, now known as Tivoli Terrace, which featured a dramatic paraboloid roof.

"It became a soaring reality that embodied his dreams, solid like the concrete from which it was made, but seeming to fly," Riker said.

Donald Williamson served on the Planning Commission and the Festival of Arts and Laguna Playhouse boards.

Donald Williamson met his wife, Josephine, through his mother, Marjorie, the managing director of the old Laguna Playhouse on Ocean Avenue, in 1935. She had had cast a beautiful young actress named Josephine in "Outward Bound." He wooed her away from the affections of painter William Wendt.

They were married in 1940. The newlyweds first lived in Eagle Rock.

Under Marjorie's direction, the Williamsons acted in many playhouse productions.

Donald Williamson worked as a stage hand on the Pageant of the Masters and Josephine Donaldson designed costumes. In 1964 he began to direct the pageant, a position he held until 1978.

In the mid-1990s, Donald Williamson worked hand-in-glove with David Young to successfully thwart a plot to hijack the festival and the pageant to San Clemente.

Like many of their neighbors, the Williamsons lost their home in the 1993 Firestorm.

Josephine Williamson died in 1997. Douglas Williamson died in 2001.

Donald Williamson was honored as the 2005 Citizen of the Year by the Patriots Day Parade Committee.

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