Above and below: Arthur A. Sauer

Arthur A. Sauer’s legacy extends beyond structural design into the tenets of building safety itself.

Born at the turn of the 20th century in Minnesota, Sauer attended the University of Minnesota and then traveled to Los Angeles to begin his career in engineering, helping to set some of the building standards that still exist today.

Sauer first worked for the Los Angeles building department, and then the “State Division of Architecture” in the Structural section. With the start of WWII, Sauer went into the Navy and, as assistant supervising C.E. and OINC in the Civil Engineering Corps and Naval Construction Regiment in Japan, was responsible for a variety of complex projects. In 1946, with the war over, he returned home and opened his first engineering practice, Arthur A. Sauer – Structural Engineer, in Sacramento, Calif.

The firm grew and soon Sauer decided to expand with the addition of offices in Stockton and Fresno. In 1955, Joe Wood, a recent transplant to California, went to work for Sauer. Quickly, Wood’s talents were recognized and he became partner and was put in charge of the Fresno office. Wood describes Sauer with great admiration and calls him his mentor, though he says that many people (especially individuals in related industries who often had large egos) could be intimidated by Sauer’s serious demeanor.

“We used to call him ‘Ethical Artie’ because he was so honest and so ethical… all you had to do was talk with him and then you respected him,” Wood says.

“We used to call him ‘Ethical Artie’ because he was so honest and so ethical… all you had to do was talk with him and then you respected him.”

Wood says that Sauer would go down to Fresno every week to go over the projects he was working on, and stayed very involved in all of the work in all three offices. Wood describes the dynamics of working as a structural engineer during this time: “The architect gets the job from the client. If you get along with the architects and do good work, you keep getting work.”

Wood adds that the firm did a lot of work on schools during the 1950s. “Schools and hospitals were premium jobs for structural engineers because of how much they had to be approved. We had the best reputation.”

Indeed, Sauer had an in-depth understanding of codes and regulations, helping write many of the California codes and laws. Sauer implemented safety factors in excess of the minimums required by codes for “important” buildings (like hospitals and schools). Sauer advised on design requirements for structures and formulated many of the policies that review and supervise the design and construction of schools and hospitals through the division of the State Architect, Structural Safety Section for the State of California.

Sauer constantly imparted his knowledge on to others.

“Sometimes it was an irritation to be second-guessed on your work, but it didn’t matter, he always had an idea,” Wood says. This extra knowledge often came in handy though. “Some guy would make me irritated by making red marks on my drawing and when we would disagree with something on the code, I’d say, ‘No, no, no, that isn’t the intent of the code, I know because Art Sauer wrote that section of the code and I knew him’.”

Wood has many fond memories of Sauer; the two remained friends even after both had retired. Wood says Sauer was “a smart and honest person and a good engineer. Sometimes as engineers get older, they let the other guys do it, but he always had a good mind for it.”

Sauer retired from active participation in the firm in 1979, and the offices became independent. The Sacramento office eventually evolved into Miyamoto International, and Vance Wiley became a partner with Joe Wood and Sauer-Wood and Associates became Wood-Wiley and Associates. Today, the company is incorporated as Wood Wiley & Jebian, reflecting the addition of Anthony Jebian in the 1980s.

Sauer’s first wife passed away and he later married Elsie Sauer. The two were married for 22 years and maintained a friendship with the Woods.

“There’s no person that had more respect or integrity for his business,” Elsie Sauer says. “When you bid on a job he never wanted it to be lowered on the contract cost. He was not one person that would ‘go backwards.’ You want our job and that’s it. He never would cut the fee; he would rather lose the job.”

Sauer passed away in his 80s. However, many structural code reforms and many of the engineering practices he touched still carry his legacy.

Christina M. Zweig is a contributing editor. She can be contacted at christinaz@zweigwhite.com.