Fred Rochlin was a long-time architect in southern California who formed an architecture firm in 1952 with colleague Ephraim Baran. The Los Angeles-based Rochlin & Baran architecture firm specializes in (it’s still an operating firm) the design of hospitals, medical facilities, and, oddly enough, observatories.
The Rochlin collection contains materials related to the architect’s post-retirement career as a monologist, performer, and author of a collection of World War II memoirs. The collection contains manuscripts, ephemera, photographs, and correspondence related to his one-man performance titled “Old Man in a Baseball Cap” and the published book by the same name.
Rochlin was born in 1923 in a village outside of Nogales, Arizona, a town that formed an axis around which many of the writings in his later career centered. In 1942 Rochlin dropped out of college to join the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, and he served as a navigator aboard a B-24 bomber in the European theater. “Our job,” writes Rochlin in his memoirs, “was to bomb the southern perimeter of Europe and bomb in front of the Russian armies that were advancing from the East.” After an honorable discharge in 1946 at the rank of Lieutenant, Rochlin enrolled in UC Berkeley’s architecture program where he met both his future business partner, Ephraim Baran, and his future wife, Harriet Shapiro. From 1949-1952 Rochlin interned in the prestigious architecture firms of Lloyd Wright and Charles Eames, and in 1952 he and Baran formed their own architecture firm.
Beginning in a modest one-room studio in Santa Monica, Rochlin & Baran would go on to design a large number of hospitals and medical facilities throughout southern California including City of Hope, St. John’s Hospital, Tarzana Medical Center, Kaiser West Los Angeles, Northridge Medical Center, West Hills Hospital, and the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Research Center. Apart from medical facilities, Rochlin & Baran also designed some of the nation’s leading observatories including the U. S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the University of Hawaii Observatory at Mauna Kea, the U.S. Solar Observatory in Sacramento, New Mexico, and the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. Other non-hospital projects included private residences, apartment buildings, and various civic buildings like the Los Angeles Public Library, Sherman Oaks Branch building (1960). In 1986 Rochlin retired from the firm he co-founded. “I want to immerse myself in the arts,” he wrote in his resignation letter that was poetic, cryptic, and that quoted writers like Thoreau and Yeats. “It takes the whole of a life time just to learn how to live it,” he said, hinting at his future artistic pursuits.
Old Man in a Baseball Cap
After his retirement, Rochlin embarked on a fascinating and unlikely second career in writing and stage performance. In 1993 Rochlin attended a writing workshop led by author Spalding Gray at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Califonrnia. In a letter to Gray, Rochlin wrote how he wanted to learn the craft of writing; he wanted to do what Gray did. Rochlin and Gray developed a friendship and Rochlin would later host the famous monologist at his Westwood apartment. In 1994, Rochlin enrolled in the Go Solo workshop at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California. Led by Laurie Lathem, the Go Solo workshops taught attendees how to write and perform for the stage. Between 1994-1996, Rochlin produced a number of performance scripts based on his experiences as a navigator in a B-24 bomber during World War II, titled “Old Man in a Baseball Cap.”
On February 6, 1996, Rochlin performed an early version of his “Old Man in a Baseball Cap” script on stage at Highways. In his 20-minute monologue, Fred talked about growing up outside of Nogales, joining the Army Air Force after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and performing an emergency Caesarean section hours before going on a bombing run over Hungary. After returning, his crew would learn that they bombed the wrong target, effectively wiping out a city of innocents by accident. Rochlin’s performances were powerful, engaging, and generally very well received. Over the next few years, he performed “Old Man in a Baseball Cap” in Los Angeles, La Jolla, Louisville, Sacramento, Peterborough, Mamaroneck, Skokie, and Phoenix. He told stories about being shot down over Yugoslavia, parachuting into the middle of nowhere and having to walk out of the country to Italy on foot led by a Yugoslav partisan named Maruska. Rochlin’s performance at Sacramento’s “B” Street Theater on January 6, 1998 received a very favorable write-up from Bruce Weber at the New York Times, who called Rochlin’s monolog “ribald, adult, morally complex and occasionally starkly funny (“At 74, a New Life as a Spellbinder Haunted by War,” The New York Times, Arts in America section, January 22, 1998).”
Achieving in a few years what most actors and writers can only hope to achieve during their lifetime, Rochlin secured a book deal with HarperCollins to turn his monologs into a collection of published memoirs. Throughout 1998, Rochlin worked on developing a manuscript of his memoirs and the book was published in early 1999. Despite the publication of his book and his hectic publicity schedule, Rochlin continued to perform “Old Man in a Baseball Cap” and attend writers’ workshops, like the Djerassi Resident Artists’ Program.
Harriet Rochlin has managed Fred’s papers and manuscripts since his death in 2002. The collection of papers, manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs has been processed and deposited at UCLA Library Special Collections, where it will be available to researchers. An online finding aid to the Fred Rochlin collection is forthcoming.
Further Reading & Listening
You can hear a fascinating and powerful interview of Fred Rochlin from This American Life, recorded in 1998 at the height of his career as a monologist. Rochlin was interviewed by his daughter, journalist Margy Rochlin, and he elaborates on some of his experiences in World War II and on being part of southern California’s art and theater world. In the candid interview, Margy learns some things about her father for the first time.