James D. Cowan

Fellow | AIA

Cowan, James D.

(1920 – 1999)

The son of a Yakima Valley pharmacist, James Douglas Cowan was born on June 19, 1920. Upon growing up in Yakima, Cowan pursued his architectural studies at the University of Washington and Yale University, graduating cum laude in 1947. During WWII, he served as an officer on several US Navy submarines in the Pacific and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

After the war, Cowan moved back to Yakima and went to work for architect John W. Maloney. In 1957, he formed a successful partnership with fellow architect, William Paddock. Together the firm of Cowan & Paddock, (later Cowan, Paddock & Hollingbery, 1963) made a lasting impact on the built environment in the Yakima Valley and surrounding area. While the firm took on many residential projects (e.g. Dr. Devney House, 1957, Ellensburg) and remodels during its early years, it quickly began to specialize in educational and institutional projects. Notable projects include the Adamson Building (1964); Bank of Yakima (1960); Yakima Valley Junior College (1962); and the National Bank of Washington (1968)—all in Yakima. Outside of Yakima, significant projects include Big Bend Community College (1963) in Moses Lake; Stephens-Whitney Hall at Central Washington University (1958-1961) in Ellensburg; the Central Valley Bank (1962) in Toppenish; KEPR TV Studio (1964) in Pasco; and the Pateros Public Library (1966).

During the 1960s, Cowan served terms as President of both the AIA Central Washington Chapter and AIA Washington State Chapter (1966). In 1967, Cowan moved to Seattle where he served a stint as Executive Director of the Washington State Council of Architects (now AIA Washington Council).

After his arrival in Seattle, he worked as an architect for The Richardson Associates, McKinley Architects, and Seafirst Bank, before retiring in 1985. In 1977, Cowan was elected to the AIA College of Fellows.

A licensed pilot, Cowan often flew in pursuit of his business interests in a Piper Tri-Pacer airplane that he co-owned with one of his brothers. Active in civic and cultural affairs, he also pursued his life-long interest in music and theater, and while in Yakima was head of the Yakima Community Concerts Association. He occasionally, even served as a leading man in productions of the Yakima Little Theater Group.

Cowan passed away in Seattle on May 22, 1999 at the age of 79.

– Michael C Houser

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