Filmmaker and historian Bob Liljestrand has preserved Ossipoff’s “masterpiece”, dies at 79

Bob Liljestrand, documentary maker, photographer and architectural historian, died last month at Liljestrand House, his historic family home on Tantalus Drive.

Liljestrand died outside on a hilltop lawn overlooking downtown Honolulu and the sea on October 23, his wife, Vicky Heldreich Durand, said.

“We rolled his hospital bed under the deck of the house, in the shade,” said his son, Shan Liljestrand. “That’s where he asked us to stop. You could see the view very clearly.

It was a point of view that Bob Liljestrand had fought to maintain.

After his father’s death in 2004, he strove to preserve the airy house with its slender lines and floor-to-ceiling windows, designed by modernist architect Vladimir Ossipoff. Liljestrand’s parents Howard and Betty Liljestrand, doctor and nurse, bought the hillside site in 1948.

Born in Aiea on December 23, 1941, Bob Liljestrand was 79 years old. The cause of death was liver cancer, Durand said.

“Bob didn’t want the house sold to private owners who would add their own touch to an Ossipoff masterpiece – he wanted to keep it for education and the community,” said Durand, a fellow of Punahou class ’59 who befriended Liljestrand. 40 years later. They got married in 2013.

The couple co-founded the non-profit Liljestrand Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the house, opening it to the public for tours and charitable, cultural and educational activities.

Liljestrand and his brother Eric Liljestrand, who died in 2016, sold their own house in order to pay property taxes for the Liljestrand house, and in 2015 the house was donated to the foundation with the stipulation that it could never be sold. for the benefit of an individual.

Members of the Foundation’s board of directors said Liljestrand would be deeply missed.

“Bob was such a stable and far-sighted person, and a dear friend,” said Dean Sakamoto, director of Dean Sakamoto Architects / SHADE Group, who first encountered the Liljestrands while looking for a 2007- retrospective exhibition 2008 “Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff”, of which he was the curator, and a book of the same title which he co-wrote.

“He was a sane guy but also a visionary, and willing to not know all the answers,” said Sakamoto. “He had his own style, very kind and caring, and he was brought up by great parents and raised in a big house, which produced a great man.”

Bill Chapman, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said Liljestrand had a knack for bringing people together, including architects, educators, writers and environmentalists around the world who participated in presentations, design seminars and other events organized by the foundation.

“Bob has always been generous to everyone in every way, from those starting their careers to visitors to the Liljestrand House,” said Chapman, who helped him enter the house, “a distinctive piece of the house. tropical modernism and a preeminent example of domestic architecture modernism in Hawaii, ”on the Historic Register.

“He was always polite, with a great sense of humor,” Chapman added, “and he faced his illness with great bravery, philosophical to the end.”

Shan Liljestrand, 31, cinematographer in Los Angeles, remembers “doing a lot of hiking on Maui and Oahu” with her father, and taking boat trips to Kaneohe Sand Bar and Rabbit Island on the Seacraft motorboat 23-footer from Liljestrand, “which he was very proud of, a dry boat that handled open water and rough seas well.”

As the youngest member of the board of directors of the Liljestrand Foundation, “I am extremely grateful to my father for being involved in the house and to all the people I have been able to work with from different worlds and different generations, ”he said.

Graduated from Punahou School in 1959, Liljestrand received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from San Jose State University in California; a master’s degree in public health from the University of Hawaii; and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of New Mexico.

He worked as a hospital administrator at the Leeward Hospital and Clinic, as a designer and draftsman for an architect in Honolulu and in his family’s real estate business.

His photographs have appeared in “Artists of Hawaii 1982” at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, and his documentary films have been screened locally and at the Los Angeles and Chicago International Film Festivals.

At the Chicago festival, he won a gold plaque for “Molokai Solo,” which recounted solitary journeys by water and on foot along the rugged coast of Windward Island. In one of the island’s remote valleys, he built a campsite with a stone platform and a rainwater catchment system.

Additionally, Liljestrand documented a 14-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon performed by a chamber music ensemble who played music throughout; and an 8,000-mile journey by train and riverboat through western China with his father and uncle, who grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan, where their parents served as medical missionaries.

But he has dedicated the last 17 years of his life to researching the history of his parents and their home, helping to establish the foundation and its programs, and co-authoring an upcoming book, “Architecture: the time, the place and the people ”, which tells the story of his family and the Liljestrand house and is designed by Barbara Pope.

“He had had a happy childhood growing up in the house, with these parents who wanted to build, not a fancy house but just a simple house, with simple materials,” said Durand, who recently posted “Wave Woman”, a memoir of his own mother.

A member of the board of directors of the Hawai’i Architectural Foundation and the Adventurers’ Club of Honolulu, where he served as president for five terms, Liljestrand was also a member of the advisory board of the School of Architecture at UH Manoa. .

He has lectured extensively on the Liljestrand House, including at the American Institute of Architecture in New York and the National Architectural Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, where the Ossipoff exhibit had traveled.

In an application letter to the Ossipoff-designed Pacific Club on Queen Emma Street, Liljestrand said: “… as a longtime friend and acquaintance of Ossipoff, I just love being in the building.”

“Bob was a great storyteller; he was great at giving improvised presentations about the house (Liljestrand) and how his parents consulted Ossipoff (who also designed the furniture and accessories and selected the artwork) whenever they made a change, long after its construction.

Liljestrand especially enjoyed the collaborative relationship between his mother and Ossipoff, “which was really a team effort,” Sakamoto said, especially when it came to the kitchen.

“I’ve never seen another Ossipoff kitchen like this – it really is a Betty Liljestrand kitchen,” he said, “a bigger but open kitchen with an island, a breakfast nook and a nearby dining room – a forerunner nowadays. “

The house is also an early and enduring example of sustainable design, Chapman said.

“It was designed with the environment in mind – it exemplifies indoor / outdoor living,” he said, “working with nature rather than against it (to provide shade under the terraces and eaves, and cooling through windows using the prevailing breezes) without air conditioning. “

Shan Liljestrand said her father’s careful home research and organization contrasted with an unstructured, open-ended approach to travel, which was “never too much plan, just just enough”.

His father loved road trips, “but I especially remember our first trip to Southeast Asia when I was 24,” he said. “We walked for two hours in Ho Chi Minh City and ended up on the other side of the river, then dad hailed a man on a small scooter, who brought us back to our hotel.”

Liljestrand worked on his book with writer Julia Steele, with whom he shared documents from the home’s archive room and notebooks he had filled, Durand said.

In the last few weeks of her life, she said, Steele called Liljestrand every morning and read him a chapter or two over the phone.

After Liljestrand heard the whole book, a few days before his death, “he told me he felt the need to do this book on his parents, but he didn’t expect me to tell his story. story, ”said Shan Liljestrand.

“He said, ‘go do whatever you want, have fun. “

“Bob was very adventurous, courageous, hardworking and honest, with big dreams,” said Durand, noting that her husband had worked until his last days. “He was going for the moon.

Along with his wife and son, Liljestrand is survived by his daughter Briana Liljestrand Lawrence (Andrew) of Denver, Colorado; sisters, Wendla Lei Liljestrand of Honolulu and Lana Lee Craigo of Fair Oaks, Texas; daughters-in-law, Marcie Durand Garner and Rennie Durand Turner; and eight grandchildren.

His previous marriages, to Diane Helbush and Carol Clark, ended in divorce.

Private services are on hold; instead of flowers, family suggestions should be made to the Bob Liljestrand Preservation Fund at

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