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Peter Dominick, Architect of Disney Hotels, Dies at 67

January 15, 2009

By David Hill

Peter H. Dominick, Jr., FAIA
Photo courtesy 4240 Architecture
Architect Peter H. Dominick, Jr., FAIA.

Denver architect Peter H. Dominick, Jr., FAIA, will be remembered for his larger than life personality and his impact on redevelopment of the city’s urban core. But his legacy also includes three high-profile hotels designed for the Walt Disney Company: Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida, and the Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim, California.

Dominick, 67, died from a heart attack January 1 while cross-country skiing near Aspen, Colorado, where he was vacationing with his family. He was founding president and chairman of 4240 Architecture, Inc., with offices in Denver and Chicago.

During his 40-year-long career, Dominick designed hotels, resorts, houses, apartment buildings, offices, and even a unique museum (the Great Platte River Road Archway) that spans Interstate 80 in Nebraska. His projects reflected a variety of architectural styles. “I’ve never believed in a style at all,” he once said. “[My] work is about absorbing a philosophy and building something appropriate.” For Disney, that meant drawing inspiration from the California Arts and Crafts movement, African safari camps, and historic National Park lodges.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Photo courtesy 4240 Architecture/© Disney Enterprises Inc.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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“He loved the West, loved Colorado, and I think that’s where his inspiration came from,” says his 4240 colleague, E. Randal Johnson, AIA. “But no matter where he was working, he was always responsive to the site, to the local culture, and he always used local building materials.” Dominick, he adds, was “an eternal optimist, always full of ideas and energy.” He understood that all architectural projects were bigger than just one person. “He was extremely inspiring, the classic old-school napkin-sketch kind of architect,” Johnson says. “He’d do cryptic sketches of projects and then go into full collaboration mode with his team.”

Dominick was born in New York in 1941 and moved with his family in 1946 to Colorado, where he developed a lifelong passion for outdoor pursuits: horseback riding, hunting, fly-fishing, and skiing. His father served as U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1963 to 1975 and was later appointed by President Gerald Ford as ambassador to Switzerland. Dominick studied architecture at Yale under the legendary professor Vincent Scully and earned his graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where his mentor was the renowned architect Louis Kahn.

After graduating from Penn, Dominick spent three years traveling the world before returning to Denver to practice architecture. In 1974, he founded Dominick Architects in Denver’s lower downtown, then a declining warehouse district. Dominick became an early champion of the historic area and helped guide its transformation to the lively, mixed-use neighborhood that it is today. In 1989, Dominick merged his firm with Urban Design Group, which he left in 2003 to form 4240 Architecture.

Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, was a longtime friend. They first met when Dominick was an undergraduate at Yale and Stern was working as a librarian at the school of architecture. In an autobiographical essay published in 2008 by the Colorado chapter of the AIA, Dominick wrote that Stern "referred to me as ‘mountain man’; I would call him ‘city boy’ until he became the dean.”

Stern remembers Dominick as “a regionalist in the best sense of the term,” whose work reflected a deep love and understanding of the building traditions of the Rocky Mountain West. “There are great writers who set their books in, say, the Colorado Rockies and don’t write about angst on the subways of Manhattan,” Stern says. “Peter was like that. His specialty was wonderful buildings that celebrated the landscape he loved.”

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