The Virtual Celebration of Life for
from Sunday, September 27, 2020
Richard (Dick) Toshio Henmi, architect of the “Flying Saucer” and many of the most memorable buildings defining the St Louis skyline, died peacefully on July 7th at the age of 96. Born and raised in Fresno, California, Dick first arrived in St. Louis with other West Coast Japanese Americans to begin studies at Washington University, which provided an opportunity for them to be freed from World War II Japanese American internment camps. He interrupted his architectural studies to serve in the Army as an officer from 1945-47, and after his return from Europe, graduated from Washington University in 1947. He married Toyoko Hidekawa of San Francisco in the same year -- they had three children, and remained together until her death in 1989.
Featured in the recent PBS documentary, “Mid-Century Modern in St. Louis,” Dick was one of the leading architects of this design movement in St. Louis. Dick rose through the ranks of local architecture firms, eventually becoming the chief designer with Russell Mullgardt Schwarz & Van Hoefen and was later made partner in the firm, which continued on as Henmi & Associates until 1989. His firm designed many important buildings including the Mansion House complex, Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark, Council Plaza, the Renaissance Hotel and an elegant family house in Kirkwood. Later in life, he was delighted by the attention paid to one of his smallest buildings, the diminutive but dramatic former gas station, dubbed the “Flying Saucer” in honor of its inverted cone shape and innovative thin shell concrete structure. An enthusiastic preservation movement in 2011 to prevent its planned demolition resulted in the building being saved and rehabilitated. In 2003, Washington University’s School of Architecture recognized Dick’s illustrious career by honoring him with their Distinguished Alumni Award.
In the late 1950’s, as President of the local Japanese American Citizens League, Dick and others proposed creating a traditional Japanese garden in appreciation to the community of St Louis for their support during WWII. This idea later led to the creation in 1977 of a 14 acre Japanese garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, named “Seiwa-en”, which means garden of pure clear harmony and peace.
Dick always lived life to the fullest and was an inspiration to all who knew him for his vitality, resilience and graciousness. He pursued his passions for travelling internationally, ballroom dancing, dining out and gambling until the last months of his life. Shortly before he died, he said, “I’ve had an incredible journey. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He is survived by his children and their spouses, Patti and Joe Anderson of Syracuse, NY, Rod Henmi and Lisa Findley of Emeryville, CA, Carole Henmi and David Frigstad of Belmont, CA, his granddaughter and her husband, Lauren and Paul Russo of Boston, MA; his former wife, Jackie Henmi of St Louis, and his beloved cat, Bobbie.
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly suggests contributions be made in Dick’s name to Washington University, College of Architecture.
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