Reclaiming a seat at architecture’s table: Elsie Krummeck
Few people know Elsie Krummeck. But most architects would have heard about Victor Gruen. Commonly credited as the father of shopping malls, Gruen moved from Vienna to the US fleeing the Nazis. He met in New York City Elsie Krummeck, while they were both working on designs for the New York World’s Fair. She had already established herself as a known designer when they met.
Born in New York in 1913 from German immigrants, Krummeck attended the Parsons School of Design and began her career creating exhibits for such events as the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Working with architect Victor Gruen, she formed the Gruen & Krummeck office, creating innovative designs for shops in New York. She sketched their most famous works : Mark Lederer, Barton’s Bonbonniere and the Custom Shop.
Among their most famous works are the former M & H Company Building in Philadelphia and the former Robinson’s Clothing Store constructed in 1947. The Robinson’s store features a dramatic sloped facade veneered in tile, as well as a prominent curved concrete roofline overhang perforated with square openings.
Krummeck married Gruen and they moved to L.A, supported by Department store magnate Joseph Magnin, in 1940.
They designed 11 stores for the clothes store Graysons. As many documents from the documentary “The Gruen Effect” shows, Krummeck was as important as Gruen in the development of their practice, which was then pursued by Gruen alone.
One of the very first building of its kind, the Milliron’s Department Store in LA is usually credited to Gruen only while the plaque on its wall clearly stipulated Gruen + Krummeck.
Their marriage and their firm was dissolved in the 1950s. They were partners during 12 years and had 2 children together.
Krummeck then married architect Neil Crawford “and concentrated on designing furniture, planters and other objects to complement his buildings. Among other things, she created murals and fountains, outdoor sculpture and street furniture for shopping centers and civic areas. Her concrete and fiberglass seating and tree-planting sculptures, including the planters for the airport parking lots, were manufactured in the early 1960s by Architectural Pottery of Los Angeles. They are still in use in many commercial and industrial areas.” She divorced Crowford in 05/1972.
Krummeck produced and designed some fantastic fiber glass works, including a six-seater monolithic piece-planter, for which she won an AID award in 1968 for research and development.
Some of her work was exhibited at the renowned “California Design” exhibitions mounted at the Pasadena Art Museum between 1955-1971.
Krummeck-Crawford also designed Zipper Light lamps for California Design 9 in 1965 out of folded paper. (LACMA’s permanent collection). She redesigned them in 1997.
Among other works, in 1968 she designed outdoor furniture for children: The Zoo Collection.
Later on, in the “California Design ’76” exhibition, Elsie Crawford’s Lounge chair, ottoman, and table manufactured by Landes Inc. was marketed under the name “Laguna Group” and fabricated from cut & molded plastic and had covered cushions made of “Acrilan.”
Many of Crawford’s works have been exhibited (Whitney Museum of American Art in New York , Pratt Institute, Brooklyn and The California Design Shows at the Pasadena Museum of Art).
Elsie Krummeck-Crawford passed away in 1999.
Here are some more interesting reads about Krummeck:
Some of her works are merchandized by zumaluma, inc, a company started by Elsie’s daughter, Peggy Gruen.