He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, on the USS Wasatch as a cartographer and photographer. He participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf; in landing operations in Lingayen and Polloc Harbor in the Philippines and in Balikpapan, Borneo; in the Occupation of Japan; and in peacetime operations in China.
After the war, he entered the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology on the G.I. Bill. The Institute of Design was founded by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1937 as the New Bauhaus, after the Nazis shut down the original Bauhaus in Germany. After World War II, the Institute of Design joined the Illinois Institute of Technology. The architecture program at IIT was headed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. However, Esten did not join Mies’s class because, he said, he was afraid of becoming an imitator.
After receiving his BA in Architecture at ID/IIT in 1950, he moved with his wife, the former Alice McCaffrey, to Washington, where his own father already lived, and took a job with Goodman’s firm, which has already started Hollin Hills. Esten was very involved in the creation of Hammond Wood. Goodman designed the Hammond Wood prototypes and Esten adapted them to the individual sites. He even bought one lot for himself.
After leaving Goodman’s office, Esten continued to build projects with developer Paul Hammond. He left Goodman in 1953 and worked for a year with Ronald Senseman as a project manager and architect/planner. In January 1955, he started his own practice in Silver Spring. Halex House on Thayer Ave was built some years later to house his practice and his interior Design Gallery.
Esten taught at Howard University as an associate professor, critic and lecturer from 1958 to 1962. He returned in the 1970s and retired as a full professor in 1986.
He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and received numerous awards from the AIA Potomac Valley Chapter: two for the Katinas residence, (one for architecture, and one for interior/exterior detail), and individual awards for the Kaufman, Kitchen, Landreth, Marcus, Marino (with Ronald Senseman) and Nelson residences; a First Place Award for the Green Acres School (1958, with the firm Davis, Brody, Wisniewski), and another for the synagogue Nevey Shalom, built for the Jewish Congregation of Belair.
He also received an award for Architectural Excellence from the Washington Board of Trade, a Special Award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce for Excellence in Building Design (1970), and the Suburban Maryland Builders’ Association Home Building Competition, Special Award of Excellence (Individual Homes Class) for a home on Brigadoon Dr. in Wilson Knolls in Bethesda.
His work was published in architecture journals such as Arts and Architecture, and featured in the local Washington press.
Harold Esten married Alice Louise McCaffrey in 1948. This marriage lasted until his death 65 years later. He is survived by his sister Florence Esten Kaufman, by his three children, and by five grandchildren.
I want to thank Hal’s children Hugh, Amy and Dora for providing the images and information on their dad’s career. He will be missed but he assuredly left his modernist mark on the Washington area.