Elizabeth G. Norcross, 94, House Beautiful editor


Elizabeth Gordon Norcross, a former editor-in-chief of House Beautiful and proponent of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, died Sunday of pneumonia at Frederick Memorial Hospital. She was 94 and lived in Adamstown.

Mrs. Norcross began her career in journalism writing home maintenance and how-to-columns for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Herald-Tribune during the 1920s.

She was the author of "More House for Your Money" and, after working in the promotion department for Good Housekeeping, took over as editor of House Beautiful in 1941, a position she held until retiring in 1964.

An innovative editor and a staunch advocate of sensible architecture, Mrs. Norcross first came to the attention of the legendary American architect Wright after publishing a scathing attack on the International Style in 1953.

After the article was published, she received a telegram that read: "Surprised and delighted. Did not know you had it in you. From now on at your service."

The telegram was signed, "Godfather," none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. A close friendship developed, and in 1955, 1959 and 1963, Mrs. Norcross devoted an entire issue of the magazine to Wright's work.

In a 1996 article in House Beautiful, she recalled what it was like being in the company of Wright who dressed in stiff, starched collars, flowing capes and carried a cane.

"He was fun to be with because he was like Maurice Chevalier. He was a very good conversationalist. He would make comments on window displays and on what people wore, and he always liked my hats," she said.

Over the years, she championed modernity, climate control in home building and sliding doors. In her article, "The Threat to the Next America," she characterized the structures of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier as being "unscientific, irrational, and uneconomical," and suggested that readers avoid the "Less is more look" and "embrace a richer earthier American style." She was also responsible for introducing Shibui, a form of Japanese design, to American culture.

After leaving House Beautiful, Mrs. Norcross worked as a freelance design consultant and was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects. She was knighted by the Finnish government for promoting an exhibition of Scandinavian arts and crafts.

A tall and slender woman with gray-white hair and compelling green eyes, Mrs. Norcross remained active until the end of her life.

"She was an astute lady and until her death, was still focusing on style, good taste and simplicity of architecture. And she continually stayed abreast of current trends in architecture," said longtime friend and Frederick resident, Barbara L. Crutchley.

Elizabeth Gordon was born and raised in Logansport, Ind., where she graduated from high school. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago.

She was married in the 1930s to Carl Hafey Norcross, a noted urban planning consultant who helped design Columbia and Reston, Va. He died in 1988. The couple had no children and no services are planned.

Mrs. Norcross is survived by a goddaughter, Brooke Shearer Talbott of Washington; and a sister-in-law, Gertrude Norcross of San Diego.

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