Alcorn & Benton: The legacy of a San Diego family

Originally printed in the La Jolla Light, March 2019

The story behind how three generations of Benton men dedicated their careers to engineering and architecture has its roots in farming.

“My grandfather was a tenant farmer and rancher in San Diego and other areas of California,” Paul Benton recalled. “When my dad was contemplating his career path, the advice he received was, ‘Don’t be a rancher unless you like to build and rebuild fences!’ ”

So Phil Benton chose civil engineering, enrolling at Cal Tech. This led to the study of geotechnical engineering, which is a branch that is concerned with the mechanical properties of soil for slope stability, permeability, foundations, and many other factors. This was a relatively new field of study, and his degree from Cal Tech took him into the Navy Seabees and eventually to Saudi Arabia and back to California, working for Bechtel. After a few years he moved to San Diego to start a geotechnical practice.

Phil’s major city projects include the foundation of San Diego Stadium where the San Diego Padres made their debut in 1967. The original stadium eventually was renamed the Jack Murphy Stadium and then Qualcomm Stadium. Paul recalls, “I remember driving onto the field level of the stadium with him, seeing all those steel pile foundations as they were being driven into the sandy soil of Mission Valley. Today those 999 steel piles still support the original stadium.”

“For a while dad was the only geotechnical engineer in town – from 1956 to about 1962,” Paul said. “He was the engineer for the 163 cut near Mission Valley and the 101 past Torrey Pines and he designed La Jolla Parkway which brought Route 52 west.” He also provided foundation design information for many landmark San Diego buildings, from the SDG&E tower to the stadium in Mission Valley.

“He was the engineer for the 163 cut near Mission Valley and the 101 past Torrey Pines
and he designed La Jolla Parkway which brought Route 52 west.”

Paul Benton’s career journey began with his father’s choice. “I have many memories working with my dad and his teaching me about soil composition and mineral identification. By the time I was 16 years of age, my Dad had me pick up soil samples at job sites and identify rock formations for various building projects,” he said.

When the La Jolla High School grad wanted to study architecture, his father advised him to choose engineering. Only after he earned his engineering degree at the Massachusetts of Technology in Boston did Paul study architecture and design. Today he is both a Registered Professional Engineer and a licensed Architect.

The dual studies have created many different opportunities for him as he is able to visualize complex structural details and provide appealing designs. His education and experience have led him to significant San Diego projects such as the renovation and expansion project at San Diego International Airport in the 1990s, and various projects at San Diego State University such as the first “smart classroom” and laboratory projects at the University of California San Diego. Additionally, he has been the Architect of Record for the Museum of Contemporary Art, the St. James Church renovation, and the renovation of the Brooks Brothers building, and hotel renovations such as the ongoing Cormorant Hotel, plus numerous commercial and high-end residential projects.

Now Benton’s son Andrew works with him and Jim Alcorn at the architectural firm of Alcorn & Benton Architects. Andrew, who joined the firm in 2003 as a project manager, brought business management skills to the operations while learning the business sides of architecture and engineering.

A graduate of the prestigious business school at UNC Wilmington, Andrew assists in running the business and manages numerous projects for Alcorn & Benton. His duties also include working with state and local permit offices, maintaining the schedules for planning and development, incorporating technical matters into the application and review process, and creating innovative solutions to changes design and various matters that come up in the field.

Andrew, who Paul refers to as a “tremendous designer and a most curious project manager,” manages the designs and prepares renderings. He also brings an expansive knowledge of technology and programming.

“He is the field contact, the client contact who can also handle and identify and follow through on some of the most technical issues,” Benton said. Andrew Benton is working closely with UCSD to upgrade the school’s earthquake simulator table in Scripps Ranch. The National Science Foundation granted the university $16.3 million. The project expands the test pads for research to more accurately simulate earthquakes.

Since joining the firm, Andrew has studied architecture under the supervision of his dad and has completed the required hours to take the licensing exams so he can become a licensed architect. The two now look to the future and continuing their family’s legacy of contributing to San Diego’s development.

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