He fled the Nazis, endured US internment and went on to design an American landmark

Alfred Preis is best known for being the architect who designed of the USS Arizona Memorial.
Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 11, 2022 at 5:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Alfred Preis is best known for being the architect who designed of the USS Arizona Memorial — the structure that straddles the sunken battleship off Ford Island.

“As time goes on, and I’m really starting to understand the significance of my grandfather’s work, I’m appreciating it more and more,” Laka Preis Carpenter said.

He remembers his grandfather’s stories, about how he and his wife fled Austria during Hitler’s siege, and how his family wasn’t as fortunate. Many of them were captured and executed.

“Both of his parents died. All of his extended family, his uncles, his aunties, his siblings, they all passed away except for one brother that was able to escape,” Carpenter said.

The Preises eventually made their way to Hawaii. Because they were German, authorities confined them to an internment camp after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“He told me how horrible it was being there. But coming out he wasn’t a bitter man,” Carpenter said.

After his release, Preis started his career as a draftsman. He became one of Hawaii’s most prolific architects. About 180 buildings and homes bear his trademark style.

“I notice certain features that stand out. I can drive around and point out, ‘Hey. That’s an Alfred Preis design,’” Carpenter said.

Preis retired to head the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. He passed away in 1994.

Carpenter never heard his grandfather say the Arizona Memorial was his crowning achievement, but he did talk about its critics.

“A lot of people said it looked like a squashed milk carton. A lot of people at first didn’t like the design. I think they couldn’t conceptualize what it would look like in real life,” Carpenter said.

Preis’ life and career are featured in an exhibit at Pearl Harbor National Memorial called Alfred Preis Displaced.

Carpenter helped to put it together.

“If you want to learn about history, and you want to learn about architecture, and you want to learn about parts of the war and what happened, it’s an amazing exhibit to go to,” he said.

The exhibit runs through July 15.

Carpenter said despite all of his grandfather’s work, he worried that he didn’t do enough to leave a lasting imprint on Hawaii.

“He didn’t think that anybody would remember him. But here we are at this point, all remembering him,” Carpenter said.

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