Geotechnical Consulting Board Threadlines of Geotechnical and Engineering Geology firms in the Greater Los Angeles Metro-Southern California Area

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Geo-Logic Associates (1991-present)

Founded in March 1991 by Gary L. Lass, CEG, CHG (BS Geol ’74 UCLA; MS ’78 CSULA) and based in Claremont. He originally used Bryan A. Stirrat, PE (BSCE ’67 Missouri-Rolla; MS Pet Eng ’72 and EnvEng ’74 USC) of Bryan A. Stirrat & Associates (BAS) in Diamond Bar as his engineer, until about 1999. Prior to this Gary Lass had worked for Moore & Taber (1977-90), serving as President and Principal Geologist. Geo-Logic Associates specializes in geoenvironmental engineering, with particular emphasis on landfills. Senor associates include: Sarah Battelle PG, CHg, VP in San Diego; Stacy Baird VP and Construction Services Mgr in San Bernardino; Ralph Murphy PG, CEG, CHg, VP in San Bernardino; Robbie M. Warner, GE (BA ’86 UCSC; BSCE ’87 and MS Berkeley, formerly with Caltrans and Rizzo & Assoc); Lam Dang - Laboratory Manager in Orange County office. They also own a subsidiary firm, the Kunkel Engineering Group in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, which performs their civil engineering work.

Other early workers in southern California
Smith-Emery Company (1910-present); Smith-Emery GeoServices (1972-present)

Smith-Emery Co. was originally founded in 1904 in San Francisco, and began performing inspection and testing of commercial structures following the San Francisco earthquake and fire of April 1906. They opened up a branch office in Los Angeles around 1910, which provided the lion’s share of chemical and materials testing for the Los Angeles area during that era. In the 1920s their stationary read “Smith-Emery Company, chemical engineers and chemists, metallurgical and testing engineers.” E. O. Slater was a staff engineer in 1928.

They provided an increasing volume of geotechnical testing and inspection services during the post-war boom years of Los Angeles County, following the Second World War. In the 1980s they had offices in Anaheim and Los Angeles. The company now includes three subsidiaries: Smith-Emery-Laboratories, Positive Lab Service, and Smith-Emery GeoServices, established in 1972. The GeoServices arm provides environmental and geotechnical testing and inspection services, employing geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, and environmental specialists.

The principal geotechnical person in the Anaheim office in the 1980s was Paul Bogseth, CEG (from Highland Geotechnical Consultants), while the firm’s principal geotechnical engineer was Lutz “Yogi” Kunze, GE, who also served as CalGeo President in 1996-97. He oversaw the geotechnical operations from the Los Angeles office between 1994-2001, before moving to Earth Systems Southwest in Rancho Cucamonga and Bermuda Dunes. Matthew Rodda served as a project manager from 1999-2006.

Jim Madden, PG, REA, CEM is currently Manager of GeoServices – Los Angeles, assisted by Christopher Larkin, PG, Ester Trivino, PG, Joseph G. Ramm, PG, REA, and staff geologist Meredith Church.

Consulting geologist Harry R. Johnson (1920s and 30s)

Harry Roland Johnson (1880-1968) earned a BA degree in geology from Stanford in 1905, and attended graduate school working under John Branner until the San Francisco Earthquake of April 1906. Between 1906-10 Johnson and his USGS supervisor Ralph Arnold (PhD Geol 1902 Stanford) conducted a series of pioneering geological studies memorialized in a series of publications, including an article in Science titled “The so-called volcano in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, California” (1907). Johnson then worked for the USGS evaluating oil and gas resources in Santa Barbara County, Coalinga, the Carrizo Plain, Kern and San Luis Obispo Counties. In 1917 Johnson became one of the founding members of the American Association for Petroleum Geologists. He was also on the Board of Directors of the Seismological Society of America in the mid-1920s.

By 1920 Johnson was established as consulting petroleum geologist working out of his office at 1101 Stock Exchange Building in downtown Los Angeles. In 1929, shortly after oil had been discovered in the Ellwood Field at Goleta, Tom Dibblee's father Wilson Dibblee hired Johnson to evaluate the oil or gas potential on the 22,000 acre Rancho San Julian in the western Santa Ynez Mountains, which led to Tom Dibblee choosing to pursue geology at Stanford University, Johnson’s alma mater (see T.W. Dibblee in the U.C. Santa Barbara threadline).

In the fall of 1932 Johnson was hired by Quinton, Code, Hill, Leeds, and Barnard Engineers to perform an engineering geologic study of the slope stability problems associated with the troubled Quelinda Estate in Pacific Palisades, which had fostered a massive landslide that closed Pacific Coast Highway (described in R.A. Hill, 1934, “Clay stratum Dried out to prevent slippage:” Civil Engineering, v. 4:8 (Aug), pp. 403-407).

The following year Harry Johnson prepared a report for the Los Angeles County Board of Education on seismic conditions in Southern California area after the March 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, which is archived in the Jan Law Collection at Cal State Long Beach.

Johnson authored USGS Bulletin 406, which was instrunmental in the establishment of Naval Oil Reserves Nos. 1 and 2 in the Elk Hills west of Bakersfield, in 1939. He also prepared USGS Water Supply Paper No. 278 describing the groundwater supply of the Antelope Valley. In 1965 he was accorded the Honorary Life Membership Award by the Pacific Section of AAPG, their highest honor.
Consulting Geologist Louis Z. Johnson (1920s and 30s)

During the 1920s and 30s consulting geologist Louis Z. Johnson geologist who operated out of an office at 2121 11th Street in Los Angeles. He attended Vienna University in Austria, followed by two years at Jena, Germany, and finishing his degree work at Imperial Polytechnic Institute in Moscow, around 1910, before the Russian Revolution. He was named to Los Angeles County District Attorney Asa Keyes’s Panel to Investigate the Failure of the St. Francis Dam in March 1928 (noteworthy because that panel was comprised of three engineers and two geologists).

Caltech faculty thread
Caltech Geology program (1926-onward)

In January 1926 John Buwalda left his faculty position at Cal Berkeley to develop a Department of Geology as one of four major science divisions at the new California Institute in Pasadena (this presently exists as their Division of Geological and Planetary Science). Within a few months Buwalda hired one of his former Berkeley colleagues, Chester Stock, as Professor of Paleontology. With the Carnegie Institute’s Seismological Laboratory a part of their program, Caltech was the first school to offer courses in geology, paleontology, economic geology, and geophysics in a single program. During his first decade Buwalda succeeded in recruiting Leslie Ransome, W.P. Woodring, Ian Campbell, Charles Richter, Hugo Benioff, Beno Gutenberg, and Dick Jahns.

Buwalda placed an enormous emphasis on field training. At Caltech he instituted what was probably the most unique program of study in the United States, requiring undergraduates to take two summer field camps; one between their junior and senior year, and another, after their senior year! In addition, during the junior year all students were required to take a year-long introductory field course, which convened on weekends. Students were also required to complete a senior thesis that was based upon independent field mapping somewhere in southern California. Buwalda continued as the chair of the Geology Division at Caltech for 21 years until his retirement in 1947, at age 60 (when he was succeeded by Chester Stock).

The emphasis on field training was removed from the curriculum around 1956 (two years after Buwalda died), when Bob Sharp took over the reins of the department. With this decision to pursue analysis-centered research and the departure of Dick Jahns in 1960, Caltech’s impact on applied geology gradually decreased, but they managed to maintain the highest level of research funding per student of any institution in the world. Three of their graduates went onto become Directors of the U.S. Geological Survey: Henry W. Menard (BS ’42, MS ’47), Dallas L. Peck (BS ’51, MS ’53), and Gordon P. Eaton (MS ’53, PhD ’57).

Prof. F. Leslie Ransome, Consulting Geologist (at Caltech 1927-35)

A native of Oakland, F. Leslie Ransome, PhD, NAS (1868-1935) attended the University of California in Berkeley, graduating with bachelor’s degree in geology in 1893 and his PhD in 1896. He was one of the four original civil servant geologists hired by the USGS (Ransome, Mendenhall, Spencer, and Willis). He achieved considerable fame as a USGS economic geologist, based in Washington DC and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1916. He retired from the USGS in 1922 to become Dean of Mining School at University of Arizona, where he hired William Morris Davis to teach geomorphology! When the Arizona faculty voted the university’s president out of office in 1926, Ransome felt compelled to tender his resignation, as this man had hired him to be the Dean. The following year (1927) he was lured to Caltech by John Buwalda, where he remained until his death, in 1935.

Ransome peformed pioneering work in engineering geology, beginning with his assignment by the USGS to assist the Bureau of Reclamation in their studies of the geology of various dam sites in Boulder and Black Canyons of the Colorado River, in 1921-22. These consultations were resumed in 1931, when construction began on Hoover Dam in Black Canyon. He was named to the Governor’s Commission to Investigate the Failure of the St. Francis Dam in March 1928, and numerous dam safety panels thereafter. In May 1929 he prepared the first engineering geologic report on a landslide in southern California, making an evaluation of the January 1929 Point Fermin Landslide for Los Angeles City Engineer John C. Shaw, which continued creep for many years thereafter, destroying the structures along Paseo del Mar. Ransome also performed the original geologic explorations for the Pine Canyon Dam site (renamed Morris Dam) in San Gabriel Canyon for the City of Pasadena in 1930. Between 1928-34, he was retained for numerous consultations for US Bureau of Reclamation, State of California, and the newly formed Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, to examine their plans for the massive Colorado River Aqueduct.
Prof. John P. Buwalda, Consulting Geologist (at Caltech 1926-54)

John P. Buwalda (1886-1954) was the father of Caltech’s geology program. He earned his BS in geology from Berkeley in 1912, followed by a PhD in 1915. He taught geology at Yale from 1917-21, then at Berkeley from 1921-25. He joined Caltech as chairman of their newly-formed Earth Sciences Division in 1925, a position he retained until retirement in 1947, after having assembled the largest geology program in the world. After Prof. Ransome began experiencing health problems in 1933, Buwalda succeeded him as the principal engineering geology consultant to MWD for the next 21 years, until his death in August 1954. He exhibited remarkable insights on potential pitfalls of Garvey Reservoir site, back in 1952, which later proved prophetic (after the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake). Buwalda’ s renown as an expert field geologist was imprinted on Caltech’s geology program during his lifetime (in 1956 the Caltech faculty made a conscious decision to shift their emphasis from field geology to more theoretical pursuits).

Buwalda also played an important role in developing earthquake resistant building codes, following the April 1933 M6.3 Long Beach earthquake, by providing numerous interviews to newspapers in support of the Riley and Field Acts, passed that year by the State Legislature. He also served on the Joint Technical Committee on Earthquake Protection, which had a major role in shaping building codes for all of California. In the mid-1930’s Buwalda also served as a consultant to San Bernardino Valley College when an apparent fault was discovered during construction of the administration and library buildings. His assessment was that it was the San Jacinto fault, and at his recommendation, a structural setback zone was established for all future buildings. Unfortunately, his map was forgotten in the 1950s and 60s when several new buildings were constructed across the fault zone!

Some of Buwalda’ s students who made notable contributions to engineering geology included: Tom Clements, Frank Nickell, Rollin Eckis, David J. Varnes, John R. Schultz, and Bruce Lockwood.

Prof. Richard H. Jahns, Consulting Engineering Geologist (at Caltech 1946-60)

A native of Los Angeles, Richard H. ‘Dick’ Jahns, CEG (1915-83) grew up in Seattle. He entered Caltech at age 16 (1931), living with his grandparents in Alhambra. He received his BS in geology in1935, followed by MS at Northwestern in 1937, after which he worked for the USGS for the next nine years, while working on his doctorate at Caltech (from 1939-43). He completed his doctorate in 1943 (during the Second World War) and accepted a position as a professor of geology at Caltech in 1946, where he remained till 1960. One of his pioneering efforts was in evaluating the subsidence in the Wilmington Oil Field in the early 1950s, which subsequently impacted the Baldwin Hills Reservoir. While teaching at Caltech he began working with Caltech soil mechanics professor Fred Converse, and developed a course in engineering geology for geology and civil engineering students. He also developed a life-long relationship with Los Angeles home builder Barney Morris, who later endowed the Morris Chair in Geology at Stanford (1985).

Dick accepted the position as department chair at Penn State in 1960, then Dean of the College of Mineral Industries in 1962. In the summer of 1965 he moved to Stanford to be the Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, where he began a Department of Applied Geology, which included engineering geology. Dick’s course in engineering geology was one of the most popular on campus, and he continued teaching it every fall, even after his retirement in 1979.

Dick Jahns had an enormous impact on the development of grading and excavation codes and general awareness of geologic hazards during the 1950s, when Los Angeles was bursting with hillside development. Dick served on the ad hoc Geologic Hazards Committee appointed by the City of Los Angeles in January 1956, following a two-day storm which wreaked havoc on parts of the Santa Monica and western San Gabriel Mountains. This led to the establishment of the City of Los Angeles Engineering Geologist Qualifications Board in February 1958, to which Professor Jahns was appointed Chairman. The board then prepared an article titled “Desired Content of Geological Reports,” which was edited by Jahns and widely distributed, beginning in May 1960. In June 1962 Jahns wrote “Desired content of geological reports submitted to the Department of Building & Safety, City of Los Angeles.” He also served on MWD Board of Geologic Consultants, between 1963-80.

He was one of the original members of the California Seismic Safety Commission when it was formed in 1975. He possessed a vibrant sense of humor and self-demeaning character that endeared him to most everyone he met. He passed away on December 31, 1983 at the age of 68, much to everyone’s regret. Some of Dick’s students who went onto distinguished careers in engineering geology included: Clarence R. Allen, Gordon Eaton, Gene Shoemaker, Perry Rahn, Tom Holzer, John Williams, Karl Vonder Linden, Jim Baker, Kerry Sieh, Gary Holzhausen, Rex Upp, Betsy Mathieson, and Randy Jibson, among others.
Prof. Robert P. Sharp (at Caltech 1947-76)

A native of Oxnard, Robert P. “Bob” Sharp (1911-2004) did his undergraduate and master’s work in geology at Caltech, receiving his BS degree in 1934 and MS in 1935. He went onto Harvard for his PhD under Kirk Bryan, a renowned geomorphologist and pioneer engineering geologist. Sharp’s doctoral research focused on the structure and geomorphology of the Ruby Mountains of the East Humboldt Range in Nevada, completed in 1938. He then taught at the University of Illinois until joining the Army Air Corps from 1943-45, working on Arctic survival manuals. He took a faculty position at the University Minnesota for two years before landing a faculty position at Caltech, focusing on physical geologic processes and geomorphology.

Sharp became the resident expert on California geology, and advised graduate students working on a wide range of topics, which included glacial processes, mechanics of sand dunes, long-runout landslides (like the Blackhawk Slide), mechanisms of debris flows, and examining the mechanics of boulders that are slowly blown across the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, just to name a few. Sharp served as the geology Division Chair from 1952-68, during which time he championed Caltech’s pursuit of geochemistry and planetary geology. Bob Sharp did not feel that professors should “moonlight” as consultants, so he refrained from ever doing so.

A number of Bob Sharp’s students went onto memorable careers in engineering and applied geology, such as USGS engineering geologist Reuben Kachadoorian, Whittier College Professor Beach Leighton, UCLA Geomorphology Professor Ron Shreve, University of Minnesota Geomorphology Professor Roger LeB. Hooke, and consultants Joe Birman, Beach Leighton, Don Asquith, Walt Reiss, Don Lamar, and Dwight L. Carey.

Visiting Prof. Richard J. Proctor (at Caltech 1975-78)

In 1975, former Caltech Professor Richard H. Jahns and Caltech geology Professors Clarence Allen, Barkley Kamb, and Bob Sharp pushed the Caltech administration in 1975 to have Richard J. Proctor, CEG appointed as a Visiting Associate Professor of Geology.  Proctor was a native of Los Angeles who had received his BS from Cal State LA in 1954 and MS from UCLA in 1958, before joining the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), where he served as their chief geologist throughout the 1960s and 70s. 

Proctor taught courses in engineering geology, focusing on local projects (e.g., San Jacinto and Mono tunnels water inflows; squeezing ground; cave-ins; gases (see R. J. Proctor, 1998, "A Chronicle of CA tunnel incidents," AEG Bull vol 4:2, p. 1-35); dam failures, including what was known about St Francis Dam (before your 1992 paper); landslides (Portuguese Bend, Hollywood Hills shale); subsidence at Terminal Island; earthquake faults, damage and mitigation (lotsa slides of 1971 San Fernando earthquake damage). An agreement was forged between MWD’s Chief Engineer and the Caltech administration so that Proctor was allowed to spend one day per week teaching at Caltech, and Caltech paid MWD 1/5th of Proctor’s salary.

Prof. Frederick J. Converse (at Caltech 1920-66)

Frederick J. Converse, PE, SE (1892-1987) graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1914. He began his engineering career in 1916 as an instructor of engineering in Rochester, New York. During the First World War he worked for the U.S. Bureau of Aircraft Production doing physical testing of aircraft parts and served in the military providing engineering services for military facilities and war related projects throughout the western United States. He then moved west and took a position as Design Engineer for the Los Angeles City Bureau of Power & Light, working on San Francisquito Powerhouse No. 2 (which was destroyed by the flood from the St Francis Dam failure in March 1928). In 1920 Converse began teaching civil engineering courses in the Engineering Division at the Throop Institute in Pasadena, which became the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1922.

In 1930 Converse began a professional association with foundation engineer Robert V. Lebarre, who cultivated an interest in the enraging specialty of soils mechanics and foundation engineering. He began doing part-time engineering design work for Lebarre. In 1933 Converse was promoted to assistant professor and established a consulting partnership with R V. LaBarre (described below). In April 1933 Converse published his first article on soil mechanics titled “Distribution of Pressure Under a Footing,” which appeared in Civil Engineering magazine (published by ASCE). It describes a plunger style pressure cell developed by Converse for ascertaining the pressure exerted beneath foundation footings. He began teaching soil mechanics as a graduate course at Caltech in the spring semester of 1934 using the text “A Practical Method for the Selection of Foundations Based on Fundamental Research in Soil Mechanics,” by Professor William S. Housel at the University of Michigan (University of Michigan Engineering research Bulletin No. 13, Oct., 1929).

Converse and Lebarre parted ways in 1936 and became sole proprietors. In 1940 Converse established a limited partnership with Donald R. Warren, a civil/structural engineer who had supervised much of the construction of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, before enrolling at Caltech to complete his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in June 1938 (described previously). This partnership only lasted two years because Warren’s company took on so much work during the Second World War, growing more than ten-fold. From 1946-49 Converse operated a modest consultancy known as Converse Foundation Engineering Co. In 1949 he hired James R. “Bob” Davis (1924-82) (BSCE ‘48, MS ‘49 Caltech) as his first full-time employee. This firm was always based in Pasadena and grew with the region during the 50s, becoming Converse Foundation Engineers in 1960. When Fred Converse retired from Caltech in 1966, the firm’s name became Converse, Davis & Associates. In 1978 they joined Joseph A. Ward & Associates to become Converse-Ward-Davis-Dixon, and in 1983 (these firms are profiled below), Converse Consultants.

Fred Converse was an influential figure in the close-knit group of Caltech engineers who influenced much of the post-war engineering practice in Los Angeles, such as William J. Carroll (BSCE '48; MS '49 Caltech), who became CEO of J.M. Montgomery, the largest sanitary engineering firm in the nation (also based in Pasadena), LeVal Lund (BSCE ’47 Caltech) who became chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and Ret Moore (BSCE ’47 Caltech) founder of Moore & Taber geotechnical consultants. All of these were fellow Navy V-12 officers who matriculated through Caltech’s civil engineering program during the war. Other Caltech alums included Bill Jones (MSCE ’50 Caltech), who started a string of geotechnical firms in the Bay Area, and Harry J. Sutcliffe (MSCE ’51 Caltech), who went onto lead Bechtel’s Transportation Engineering Group and became chief geotechnical engineer of the Chunnel Project between England and France. There also existed a small, but influential cadre of Caltech CE alumni who were well-positioned to influence the awarding of consulting work, such as Markham E. "Ham" Salsbury (BSCE ’25 Caltech), Assistant and Chief Engineer of the LACoFCD (from 1943-65), and W .E. (Bill) Milburn, PE. (BSCE ‘38 Caltech), who led the Grading Division of the Dept of Building & Safety for the City of Los Angeles, from 1952-76. Converse was the “dean” of soil mechanics practitioners in southern California when he passed away in 1987.

Prof. Ronald F. Scott (at Caltech 1958-98)

Ronald F. Scott, PhD, PE, NAE (1929-2005) grew up in Perth, Scotland and received his BSCE from Glasgow University in 1951. He attended MIT for graduate school, receiving his MSc in 1953 and ScD in soil mechanics in 1955, working under Harl Aldrich on the numerical analysis of consolidation problems. After graduation, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research Lab and for Racey, McCallum Associates in Toronto. In 1958 he accepted a faculty position at Caltech, where he remained until his retirement in 1998. During his tenure at Caltech, Scott wrote three textbooks on geotechnical engineering: Principles of Soil Mechanics (1963); Soil Mechanics & Engineering (with Jack Schoustra of Converse-Davis) in 1968; and Foundation Analysis in 1981.

Scott pioneered many of the soil sampling techniques used by NASA on the Surveyor, Apollo, and Viking missions. He was also a pioneer in the use centrifuges to model static and dynamic geotechnical earthquake engineering problems. He served on a number of important panels, including the Mayor’s Report on the Baldwin Hills Dam Failure in 1963, and the Bluebird Canyon Landslide in Laguna Beach in 1978. He was also one of the principal figures in the design of subaqueous foundations for Los Angeles County’s coastal sewer outfalls. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1974, became a registered civil engineer in July 1977, was the ASCE Terzaghi Lecturer in 1983, and ICE’s Rankine Lecturer in 1987. Some of his PhD students included Hon-Yim Ko (Univ Colorado), Ahmed M.Abdel-Ghaffar, H.-P.Liu, J. Ting, Jean Prevost, Bernard Cuny, J. R. Thomas, Jean-Pierre Bardet (Univ Southern California), Marie B. Levine, Phalkun Tan, Paramsothy Jayakumar, Liping Yan, T.-S. Tan, and Alexander Ortiz (consulting engineer SF Bay Area).

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