OBITUARY : L Elie Mayorcas
Saturday 26 August 1995
Mayorcas qualified at the Architectural Association school in 1939 and on the outbreak of war joined the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He narrowly avoided capture by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, being ordered to leave with a small group on the last boat out. This became the target of a number of Japanese torpedoes, but, being a small, old flat- bottomed craft the torpedoes passed harmlessly below it. After a long and harrowing voyage across the Indian Ocean the group under his command eventually reached Ceylon. By then in a state of near starvation, they were refused permission to land by the au- thorities, who accused them of being deserters. Fortunately Mayorcas had taken the precaution of insisting on written orders and they were accorded a hero's welcome.
On demobilisation he set up in private practice and established a reputation as a leading designer, particularly of schools during the great expansion of school-building in the Fifties and Sixties. Many of these were for the counties of Middlesex and Kent, a typical one for the latter being the Gravesend Gordon School described by Pevsner as "unusually elegant". In fact "elegance" characterised all his works and indeed the man himself and, although always designing in an uncompromisingly modern style, he brought to it a sensitivity and attention to scale which became his hallmark.
As his practice expanded so did the variety of his work which encompassed industrial housing and medical buildings as well as schools. One of his main commissions was the rebuilding of the St John's Wood barracks for the Royal Horse Artillery. This complex assignment involved the design of 22 disparate buildings grouped round the parade ground including, besides the barracks, the large troop stables and the renovation of the fine but dilapidated 1825 riding school with its 14 massive and splendid 85ft queen- post trusses. The end result is a coherent whole, the stables being a particularly successful interpretation of the traditional re- quirements for accommodating a large number of horses.
Elie Mayorcas was a Londoner born and bred. He was sometimes described as the capital's last pedestrian as from the end of the war he never owned or drove a car. His slight, elegant figure, always immaculate and always wearing a brown fedora which accentuated his remarkable resemblance to the young George Raft, proceeded sedately from his fine Georgian house in Devonshire Place to his offices in Baker Street. For many years he lived the life of a comfortably off bachelor in a style perhaps more typical of the Twenties or Thirties than the post-war period.
He was a great believer in giving responsibility to young architects and the very many whose careers have been influenced by their time in his office will remember him with affection and respect. Retiring from practice in 1976 he continued to build up his interesting and eclectic collection of paintings which ranged from 18th- century classical to some exceptional examples of Dame Laura Knight.
He married quite late in life and left London to live with his wife Bridget on her farm in Hampshire. There, surrounded by horses, dogs and stepchildren, this essentially urban and urbane man resolutely maintained his total indifference to country life.
Elie Mayorcas was my landlord for more than 30 years, and never a cross word did I hear from him, writes Bernard Levin. For most of those years he lived literally under me, and if he didn't like Wagner, he never by word or gesture made that clear.
The building in which we both lived went back to the end of the 18th century, and Elie not only loved it, but made sure that it kept its pristine nature. (It still does.) I remember, though it was many years ago, that the original front door had to be removed, so gnarled and twisted had it become. Elie bemoaned its going as though it was a favourite son who had fallen into bad hands.
A visit to his duplex was a gracious pleasure; from the bow he never forgot as he opened the door, to the immediate glass of wine (and Elie knew wine from wine) a discussion might range from politics to the rental.
That sounds like the perfect gentleman, and the perfect gentleman Elie was. He would shake his head in sorrow when he read of the beastlinesses of modern life, but he never for a moment failed to live up to the standards he lived by. It was a pleasure to have known him, and anyone who did know him, will not forget him.
Elie Mayorcas, architect: born London 12 November 1908; married 1990 Bridget Edwards (nee Nicholson); died Monk Sherborne, Hampshire 18 August 1995.
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