The 9+ lives of André and Sally King

Posted on Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:30pm

By Tracy Poyser

From the first time I saw Sally and André King shortly after they moved into Malibu East 11 years ago, dressed in evening wear for a downtown special event – tall, elegant and clearly happy – I was intrigued. Since then, they have graced many of our social events, from high teas to the most recent potluck, always happy to contribute. So, when their names came up as candidates for a Dialogue profile, I gladly volunteered to interview them as a couple – although Sally immediately deferred to André as the primary target. I do believe she’s too modest.

When my one-hour, 4 p.m. interview with tea stretched into early evening and a gracious offer to stay for dinner and wine, I knew that 1,500 words couldn’t do justice to André’s story as an Air Force veteran, architect, architectural graphics and environmental design specialist, gemologist, consultant, honorary consul of Barbados, photographer and mentor. And, that doesn’t include Sally’s story.

Their living room and hallway reflect their adventurous life, with one wall displaying oars, implements, masks and other exotic treasures from their travels all over the world, including traveling by boat in the upper regions of the Amazon, a 2,000 mile Kenyan safari with private truck and driver from Nairobi all the way back to Mombasa, and becoming among the first tourists to reach the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in search of Ghana’s Dodi Island. Other treasures include artifacts from Pompeii, Italy’s Etruscan culture and artistry from the Far East.

But, back to André, who was born in 1931 in Chicago. His father worked hard to keep the family together during the Depression after having inherited his own father’s real estate business, making the family’s circumstances more comfortable and allowing André to go to private schools.

André developed an interest in the arts very early on – drawing, painting, sculpture and related disciplines – initially intending to pursue a career in portrait painting. After five years in the Air Force, he pursued his arts education at the School of the Art Institute, the University of Chicago, and abroad with studies in studio painting in Munich, Germany. In the late ’80s, he became fascinated with natural stones, an interest he pursued at the Geological Institute of America, with a diploma and certification as a graduate gemologist.

André’s tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force was of particular interest to me, having myself been born in Germany toward the end of World War II. He was drafted in January 1950 at age 19 just before the Korean War and received an honorable discharge in 1955 – years that forced him to grow up quickly.

He had been fascinated with airplanes ever since his first flight with his dad when he was four years old, and his second on a corrugated trimotor mail plane flying from Chicago to Milwaukee and St. Louis. Right out of flight school in the Air Force, he got his face frozen on Arctic routes, traveling to Newfoundland, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and New Brunswick, while tasked with helping to locate, report and photograph German U-boat stations using a fixed-frame camera.

His first experience in postwar Germany was in late 1952 when he took a train from Berlin Tempelhof (then a U.S. air base) through firebombed Dresden’s ruins to Frankfurt, with only girders left of its huge main train station. He remembers that his second-floor room in one of the city’s best hotels was freezing, with a hole in the wall covered by a tarp. While out on a jeep reconnaissance drive to spot black-market activity, he sat down to rest in one of Frankfurt’s bombed-out churches. Overcome by emotion and the horrors of war, André was consoled by a master sergeant he didn’t know.

Another eye opener was an assignment in Vienna in 1953, where he interacted with Russian (Soviet) officers who still considered themselves very much the upper class and lived very well, as opposed to the Soviet rank and file. They communicated easily in English and French, and were very obliging and not at all hostile. He remembers a reception at Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace, with Russian bison grass vodka (zubrovka) flowing freely, and foot soldiers standing outside on a freezing staircase, clearly not an egalitarian society.

André’s time in the military set the stage for him to become a wanderer and seek out life in different ways. His desire to become an artist prompted him to go back to Munich in 1956 to attend art school in Munich’s famed bohemian Schwabing arts district. He remembers rooming with Frau Hoffman, a widow who had lost all five sons in WWII. “This kind woman made me know that not all of the German people were our enemies,” André said.

Returning to Chicago later in 1956, André landed a student summer job at the renowned architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and stayed with the firm for 27 years, having gained his certificate of architecture from Chicago Technical College in 1957 and a bachelor of arts in education from the University of Chicago. During his tenure there, SOM grew to 1,400+ employees worldwide, and André distinguished himself by helping pioneer the field of architectural graphics and environmental design, a concept that relates architectural design to the environment. Under André’s leadership, architectural graphics became a separate division in the firm. This design concept is now considered a classical approach and is taught as a degreed subject.

While working at SOM with Chicago architect Walter Netsch, he began creating international highway signage standards, including geometrics for the directional arrow, and worked on the famed Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs and the Kitt Peak solar telescope outside of Tucson, Ariz., as well as many other projects.

After resigning from SOM in 1981, André built his own design studio at 220 S. State St., ARK – André Richardson King Designers Inc. Some of his many projects include Triangle Plaza in suburban Rosemont, 55 East Monroe and 181 West Madison in Chicago, CMD Meridian Office Park in Aurora, and directional signage at O’Hare and Midway airports.

André also created a separate company, A Perfect Sign Inc., which today is owned and run by his daughter, Jandra M. Fraire, specializing in architectural graphic design and wayfinding programs.

On the more personal side, André admits to experiencing some wild and crazy years, a bit like a Mad Men’s Don Draper of architecture. He met Sally in 1976 on a diving trip to Aruba and remembers admiring her during a night dive, but she didn’t think much of him at the time. Several months later, he found her name in the ship’s manifest and sent her a Christmas card, wondering if she was dating anyone. He didn’t give up, and four years later they married.

Sally encouraged, helped and supported André to open his own firm. Three years after he had opened it, she became part of the business – he says he bribed her with a gold calculator.

Sally’s adventures do deserve their own story – including moving to Denmark on a one-way ticket without any money after she left college.

André and Sally left their home in Oglesby Towers on the South Shore to purchase their 26th floor condo at Malibu East. To add some panache, it’s also home to the Honorary Consulate of Barbados, West Indies – André has been honorary consul since 1974, the longest-serving head of post in Chicago’s diplomatic corps. In addition to his role as honorary consul, he is on the Chicago Consular Corps Executive Committee. Sally is on the committee of the Chicago Consular Corps Ladies Club, a social organization for the wives of the diplomats and the female heads of post.

There’s so much more to tell, but I guess you’ll just have to wait for André’s autobiography, which I hope is in the works, or – better yet – a TV miniseries, with Woody Harrelson, Harrison Ford or Robert de Niro on stilts playing André. Can’t think of anyone who could possibly do justice to Sally. Or, you can talk to them at one of our next social events.