Great-grandson of Edison and Wright, innovator and builder of some of West Coast’s most iconic buildings, Last lived in San Francisco for nearly 50 years
Jay Last, one of the prominent figures who joined the pioneers that founded Silicon Valley, passed away on Thursday at the age of 92.
“Jay was a builder who built some of the city’s most iconic buildings and landmarks,” tweeted San Francisco mayor London Breed, in a statement released on Friday. “He also led many of the celebrations that cemented the city’s cultural and intellectual presence in the public’s awareness.”
The chief executive of San Francisco General Hospital, Susan Chan, described Last as “instrumental in helping create a full-service hospital for the city”. “He believed we had the potential to re-imagine what a hospital should be, to reimagine healthcare,” she said in an interview with ABC 7 News San Francisco.
Last was born in Chicago in 1927, the son of noted engineer Horace Last, who was president of the American Institute of Architects, and Stella Last, a Russian-born immigrant. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, at the age of 13, he witnessed the 1929 crash.
Anchored by the great gatherers of gold and silver at Calaveras and San Francisco mountains, and rode by hydroelectric streams in the summer, the Northern California region was desolate, smoky and deathly quiet.
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Jay went to live with his grandparents in the Incline Village of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he met his future wife, Ruth Elliot. The couple had four children together: Jay III, Kathleen K, Francis David and Ruth Elliot. He spent his childhood on the Stanford University campus and elsewhere in the Bay Area.
In 1955, Jay opened up offices for his electrical engineering firm, Jay Last & Associates, in San Francisco, and after a string of successful ventures, he turned his attention to building the gas chambers that had housed prisoners at Valley of the Ghetto. The resulting exhibit, San Francisco’s Holocaust Museum, a twisting metal cage constructed over the barrel of a gas chamber, opened in 1957.
He also began constructing city-building projects, including, in 1963, 11 buildings in San Francisco to house the city’s water district offices, the few apartments still left in the Mission District and the Museum of Water and Electricity, the first museum dedicated to electricity and power in the world. He would design an astounding 105 structures over two decades, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
A year later, Last and his wife joined the pioneers that settled the area, putting their money into their native science and arts. He worked with the legendary nightlife proprietor and entrepreneur Jack Valenti on the kick-off of San Francisco’s popular International Surfing Museum. In 1966, his wife joined the design firm of the celebrated interior designer Louise Gehry.
He was the grand-nephew of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, according to the Chronicle. He also built his own glass barn that he tore down to build a new barn to keep his cattle.
He was a member of the San Francisco Ballet Board, and later retired to a Calaveras County residence with his wife. His last public appearance was at an Environmental Science Society meeting in Marin County in 2011.
“During his long life he inspired a community,” said San Francisco director of communications Mary Mosiman. “San Francisco will always be grateful to him.”