Calvin K. Kobsa, a semiretired Baltimore architect who was the founder of Calvin Kern Kobsa & Associates, died May 10 of complications after brain surgery at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 86.
"Calvin will be remembered as a kind soul and a good architect," said Walter G. Schamu, founder and president of the Baltimore architectural firm of Schamu Machowski + Patterson. "He was always interested in the other person's career and was always a very friendly and affable fellow."
"Calvin is the type of person who is seldom seen in Baltimore anymore," said Phil Hildebrandt, a longtime friend and former president of the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House. "For a person of his age, he was very energetic and had lots of interests."
The son of Charles J. Kobsa, a piano maker and tuner, and Marie Kern Kobsa, a homemaker, Calvin Kern Kobsa was born in Baltimore and raised on Riggs Avenue. He later moved with his family to a home on Linden Terrace near Pikesville.
After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1945, he enlisted in the Coast Guard and served aboard ships until being discharged in 1946.
He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1951 from the University of Maryland, College Park and worked as a civil engineer for the Baltimore County Board of Education from 1951 to 1952.
Mr. Kobsa re-enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1952 and attended Officer Candidate School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he was commissioned an ensign and later attained the rank of lieutenant junior grade.
Assigned to the Coast Guard's engineering department for the Fifth Coast Guard District, Mr. Kobsa was stationed in Norfolk, Va., where he was responsible for ensuring the structural integrity of coastal lighthouses in Maryland, the District of Columbia and North Carolina. He remained active in the Coast Guard until 1968.
From 1954 until 1960, when he founded Calvin Kern Kobsa & Associates, he worked as a draftsman for several Baltimore architectural firms. He attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned a degree in fine art in 1957.
When Mr. Kobsa established his architectural firm, it was first located in Rodgers Forge. It later moved to offices in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood and in the late 1970s to an office on West Monument Street.
Mr. Kobsa's firm performed a varied body of work of both residential and commercial commissions.
Commissions included St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air, Oheb Shalom Congregation, Family Life Center Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Randallstown and St. John's Lutheran Church in Longview.
The Hillendale Country Club, The Knott Co. in Baltimore, and the Glyndon Square Shopping Center were designed by the firm, as were public schools in the city and Baltimore County.
His firm designed the Fort Frederick State Park Visitor's Center, Elk Neck Park Boathouse, Interstate 95 rest area buildings, the Morgan State University press box, and Towson University's new boiler plant.
The firm completed restaurant design work for Little Italy's Da Mimmo and Vaccaro's, Ocean Pride in Lutherville and Quiznos Restaurants in Pennsylvania. Other work ranged from banks and professional buildings to automobile dealerships, apartments and townhouses.
Mr. Kobsa oversaw the design work that converted the two-story Samuel Owings House — a Georgian brick structure on Painters Mill Road dating to 1760 and one of Baltimore County's oldest buildings — into a restaurant.
In 1996, the building was bulldozed just hours before a court hearing in which preservationists were going to make a last-ditch effort to spare the building.
"He loved history and Baltimore history and was passionate about historic preservation," said a daughter, Francesca K. Lynch of Lutherville.
In 2003, Mr. Kobsa was presented an award from Baltimore Heritage for the conversion of a former Enoch Pratt Free Library branch in the 2500 block of St. Paul St. into The Village Learning Place.
"Old theaters was a specific interest and he was always reporting news about those that were demolished or restored. We were always getting neat little glimpses from him," said Mr. Hildebrandt. "He was always talking about going to those old theaters when he was a boy and seeing movies and vaudeville shows."
Mr. Kobsa successfully led the restoration of the 1930s-era Lafayette Theater in Havre de Grace.
He was a longtime board member of the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House and served on the board of Carroll Museums, Preservation Maryland and Baltimore Heritage.
"Calvin had a deep and abiding interest in H.L. Mencken and his work," said Mr. Hildebrandt. "He did a lot of architectural drawing for the house as a volunteer and never charged for his work or time."
"He was a gent of the old-school who was always beautifully tailored and dressed. He favored strong plaid jackets with a puffed handkerchief in the pocket. He was a very dashing fellow," said Mr. Schamu.
"As an architect, he drew by hand and did not use a computer. He was free of all the electronic equipment, including a cellphone," he said. "He was the epitome of the World War II architects who are now leaving us."
The former Regester Avenue resident had lived in Rodgers Forge. In 1972, Mr. Kobsa moved into a contemporary redwood home that he designed and that sits on a slight hill facing down Charles Street Avenue in West Towson.
He enjoyed painting in oils and creating an annual hand-drawn Christmas card of an historical Baltimore scene or landmark that he sent to family and friends. He also was an avid model railroader and had a layout in the basement of his home.
"Every year, he'd set up a Christmas garden in the H.L. Mencken House," said Ms. Lynch.
Plans for a memorial service to be held in June are incomplete.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Kobsa is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Anna Vinci; another daughter, Marianna Weisheit of Towson; and four grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun