March 29, 1926 ~ May 12, 2020
Born in: Irvington, California
Resided in: San Francisco, California
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Helen’s heart stopped on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. We are all so sorry; she meant so much to those who knew her. She was 94 and had lived a full life under her terms. Helen was an architect, a painter, an adored aunt to her nieces and nephew, and an inspiration—something of a legend—to her friends in the Park Hill Condominium, where she lived for 33 years.
Helen began her life in 1926 in Irvington, a small town settled by the first wave of California pioneers, now a district of Fremont. She was the firstborn child of Mary Liston Griffin, a former secretary in the San Francisco law firm of Chickering and Gregory, and Randolph A. Griffin, a long-time local Builder and Contractor. Both had roots deep in the history of California. Helen’s great-great-grandfather, Timothy Rix, settled in 1849 on the land where Helen grew up.
As a child, Helen was unusually discerning about the world around her, and with natural drawing abilities soon began to express what she saw and liked. Helen graduated from Washington Union High School, Centerville, in 1943 and immediately went to work in the war effort, taking the Peerless Stage every day to the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, where she worked as a ship draughtsman—a “Rosie the Riveter” with pencil. After the war, Helen enrolled in architecture school at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1950, one of two women in the class. In the days before the computer, typing was considered a woman’s job. Fearing that in all-male offices she would be stuck, Helen carefully never learned to type until computers arrived. She endured in a profession in which women, for no good reason, were rarely accepted.
Helen took a position in the office of noted Mid-century Bay Area architect William Wurster (Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons, WB&E), for whom the architecture school at UC Berkeley is named and where she perfected her natural skills of proportion, detailing, and the importance of balanced light.
Meanwhile, Helen continued to paint. At mid-career, she took a year off to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. A figurative painter, Helen was influenced by the work of Elmer Bischoff and Pierre Bonnard. She painted with a cherished painting group, mainly Freudian analysts.
Returning to architecture, Helen worked in the office of Backen, Arrigoni, and Ross before establishing her practice, M. Helen Griffin, Architect. She worked with a group of independent architects, most of whom she had met at WB&E, who assisted with each other’s projects. Close friends, they met for lunch once a month and toured new projects in the city; together, they toured sites of architect Andrea Palladio in Italy.
Helen had a deep interest in Jungian psychology and was a long-time member of the Analytical Psychology Club. There she met Joseph Henderson, the co-founder of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. Jungian analysis helped her to develop as an artist and a person. Helen was an avid reader, a profound follower of politics, and uncompromising in what she believed to be true. She loved classical music. She lived her life within the highest standards and was acknowledged by her family members as the ultimate arbiter of taste. Helen was quick to challenge nonsense. In her senior years, she had conquered the mysteries of technology. Living comfortably at The Redwoods in Mill Valley the day before she died, she paid bills online, Zoomed, played computer scrabble with nieces (winning), ordered medications on the internet and talked on the phone with her sister-in-law, Patricia Griffin, with whom she had formed a deep relationship.
Family members in mourning include brother Jim Griffin and his wife Patricia, Fremont, CA; nieces Sarah Warnock, Marshall, CA, Elizabeth Hedelman, M.D., Woodcare, CA; nephew Randy Griffin, Berkeley, CA; and their respective children: Noah and Anna; Julia and Nicholas; Alizé and Maëlle.
A website is being developed to include pictures of Helen’s paintings and stories of her life. Those interested in viewing the website may get in touch with family members or notify Berge-Pappas-Smith Mortuary, email@example.com. Remembrances may be sent to the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, 2040 Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94109.