Cheers to 35 Years
By Brian Libby
In the spring of 1987, David Giulietti quit his job at a local architecture firm and hung out his shingle for the first time as head of his own firm. That year, movies like Three Men and A Baby were playing in theaters, while songs like U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” ruled the radio waves and “Cheers” was perhaps the most popular TV show. But thankfully this likeable architect had found what he was looking for. Dave built his firm to last, and befitting the drummer he is on weekends, over time his solo became a harmony, joined by partners Tim Schouten and later Jake Weber.
Half of all American small businesses, including architecture firms, do not survive five years. Coming to Portland from New York City during an early-Eighties recession, without a network of contacts or family roots, Dave’s odds might have been even greater. Yet from the firm’s studio in a historic storefront building on Thurman Street in Northwest Portland, a longtime neighborhood fixture, GSW has spent three and a half decades designing homes and commercial buildings with timeless aesthetics and happy occupants. That the firm is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year is the ultimate testament. To these three men and a business, cheers are indeed in order, as well as a look back.
1981: From New York to Portland
Dave was raised on the outskirts of New York City, in the Rosedale and Kew Gardens neighborhoods of Queens. When he was in high school, in 1969 Dave’s beloved New York Mets won the World Series, yet the city also faced increasingly challenging times. In 1972 he enrolled at City College of New York, which at the time offered free tuition to local residents. CCNY was located in Harlem, necessitating a three-hour round trip commute.
“I typically had to take a bus from my house to Jamaica, Queens, then take the subway to Columbus Circle in Manhattan, then hop on another train uptown to City College,” he remembers. “But it was fun, because you had a wide variety of people going there, and once I went into the architectural studio and saw the models being built and the drawings, it was a no brainer to choose architecture over engineering.”
While studying architecture, Dave worked as an office assistant at New York firm Rothzeid Kaiserman Thomson & Bee (today known as RKTB Architects). With so many mid-career architects having left town amidst a recession, he was offered a full-time position upon graduation in 1979. “Having to run jobs as such a young architect, being thrown into the fire like that, it was great,” Dave says. “But I knew I wanted to get out of New York.” He planned to move west with his girlfriend, and spent nearly two years retrofitting an old telephone-company van into a camper. Before they could embark, the van was stolen, and then she decided to say home. “I said, ‘The hell with that,’” Dave remembers with a chuckle, “and I bought a plane ticket to San Francisco.”
Dave didn’t have any friends or family in Portland. It’s simply the city he picked out in 1981.
After flying to San Francisco because a friend of his sisters could put him up for a few days, the young architect bought a used car and drove the entire Pacific coast, visiting every major city as well as natural wonders like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. “I just pretty much left with destination unknown,” he says. “Once I got to Vancouver, BC, I made my decision to come back to Portland. It was a actually toss-up with San Diego, but I just felt Portland had so much more to offer in long term.”
In the short-term, though, things were tough. He arrived here with $250 to his name, no contacts and no job. At the time, America was also in the midst of a deep recession. While looking for work, Dave remembers visiting one venerable firm (today still in business) whose three principals were nearly the only staff left, and whose co-founder said to him, “You’re from New York? Go back there.”
Then Dave got his break. In 1982 he was hired at Portland firm BOOR/A (today known as Bora) by longtime principal Heinz Rudolf, who had emigrated here from even further away: Bavaria, Germany. Yet coincidentally, the job captain for Dave’s first project, Jonah Cohen (a future decades-long friend, AIA Fellow and longtime Hacker Architects managing principal), was a fellow-New Yorker who had been taught at Cooper Union by Dave’s former mentor: Carmi Bee, FAIA of Rothzeid Kaiserman Thomson & Bee.