E. James Smith, 1937-2013: Architect designed Blue Cross offices

E. James Smith
E. James Smith

E. James Smith, 75, a Toledo-based architect for more than 30 years and a founder of the Collaborative Inc. whose buildings could be modern, distinctive, and functional, died of cancer Saturday in his daughter Kelly Brooks’ Monclova Township home.

Mr. Smith moved to northern California in 1991 and became associate director of design and construction services for the University of California — essentially principal architect for the president’s office. When the statewide university system set out to build a campus from scratch in the San Joaquin Valley, its first new campus in nearly 40 years, he was put in charge of design for UC Merced’s campus.

Mr. Smith of Brentwood, Calif., retired in 2005 and was Merced campus architect emeritus.

“To start from nothing, and to open to students, that was quite an achievement,” his daughter said.

He came to Toledo in 1960 with an architecture degree from Ohio University, where he played tight end on the football team, and was associated with several architectural firms and Toledo Edison. In 1966, he joined the architectural/​engineering firm then known as Samborn, Steketee, Otis & Evans. His design of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield offices on West Sylvania Avenue caught the attention of colleagues, workers in the building, and passers-by, who said its grained sandstone made it seem to be made of wood paneling. “It’s very dramatic, a very majestic sort of building,” said Richard Meyers, a landscape architect who worked with him on the project.

Mr. Smith joined Mr. Meyers and others to become a partner in Mortensen, Meyers, Squire, and Smith — which with others became, in 1973, the Collaborative. Local projects and in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and Durango, Colo., followed.

He began his own E. James Smith Architects Inc., in 1978. Its award-winning projects included the Buehner Walking Center at Oak Openings Metropark.

“I considered him the best designer in the area,” said Tom Porter, an architect who worked for him.

Mr. Smith had been an adjunct professor of architecture at the University of Michigan.

Born in Toledo, he grew up in Northfield, Ohio, and was a four-sport athlete at Northfield High School. He was formerly married to Carole Smith.

Surviving are wife Patsy Cheney, whom he married in 2003; daughters, Wendy Smith, Tammy Smith, and Kelly Brooks; brothers, Tom and Doug, and seven grandchildren.

A life celebration is set for 1 p.m. Sept. 15 at North Cape Yacht Club, LaSalle, Mich., where he had been a member. The family suggests tributes to the William J. Bolliantz Leadership Foundation in care of the Nordonia School Foundation, Northfield, Ohio, or the UC Merced design and construction department.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.