By Stuart Ohlson and Hervey Lavoie, founders of OLC
On June 15, 1961, just a few years after growing up and playing on a dirt road called Colorado Boulevard, Stuart Ohlson hung up his clapboard and founded Stuart Ohlson and Associates. From an office he had designed directly across from East High School, he and his staff were soon engaged on a number of residential and commercial assignments.
“All of a sudden, you are in business, whether you know it or not!” Says Stuart Ohlson, recalling the early days.
Today this company has grown and became what is today OLC | . is called Ohlson Lavoie Corporation. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, OLC is an architecture, interior design and water sports company based in Denver with offices in Orlando, Cairo and Tokyo. Today OLC specializes in recreational, health and wellness, hotel and water projects. Over those 60 years, OLC has helped transform the Denver skyline, impact our training, and transform the lives of its employees, business partners, customers, and those who live, work and play in its buildings.
In 1974, Hervey Lavoie joined Stuart and eventually became a co-owner of the company renamed Ohlson Lavoie Corporation. Hervey, a recent graduate of the architecture school, was in his element now. “As a 15-year-old I saw my new parish church being built and thought I could do it and have fun,” says Hervey, recalling why he became an architect.
A focus on recreation
Early on, Stuart and Hervey led a small group of employees who focused on designing buildings to suit their clients’ needs. Commissions came from the development of existing relationships, such as those that came about when Stuart played tennis on Thursdays at 3 p.m. Amazingly, despite the oil crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s that hit Denver hard, this small company designed large high-rise projects. These included the towers of Park Place and the Country Club near Speer Blvd., several apartment towers next to Cheesman Park, and half a dozen high-rise buildings for the Writer Family at the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Blvd., five of which are still standing . OLC was a small company with great project credibility. One of those late-night tennis sessions led OLC to design its first stand-alone, multi-purpose health club, now known as the Colorado Athletic Club-Inverness.
Because of the success and relationships that were built with this project, OLC plunged straight into the fitness and leisure industries. Since then, under the direction of Hervey, the company has developed into a specialist and expert in the fitness and leisure sector. He and others have written articles on custom design for organizations like IHRSA, NIRSA, the Medical Fitness Association, and park and leisure departments. OLC employees regularly attend industry congresses and seminars and speak as design specialists.
A big change came from this industry focus – travel. Prior to 1984, OLC had never had a design contract of any kind outside of the state of Colorado. Coincidentally, during this period, working outside of the state helped the OLC bridge the periodic economic slowdowns that plagued Denver in the 1970s and 1980s (the AIA slogan for 1975 was “Stay Alive At 75!”). It seemed like there was always a hot developing zone in some part of the country … and where the economy was hot, clubs were being built: Dallas in the early 1980s; Washington, DC in the mid 1980s; Atlanta in the late 80s. In 1988, OLC began traveling and working in Japan, which became a major source of work during some lean times in the United States. OLC’s specialized design focus meant a constant resource for business, but also travel and lots of it.
Adaptation to new technologies
Another big change in those 60 years was the technology used by architects. Although every architect was expected to master the basics of hand drawing by the early 1980s, techniques and methods for architects changed drastically and seemingly overnight.
“I remember getting our first calculator in 1974. Shortly afterwards our first in-house copier came. Then came a fax machine, a multi-line phone, a voice messaging system, a Kroy machine, and Letraset, ”says Hervey of some of the early changes in technology. “However, in the mid to late 1980s it became clear that the basic systems our profession had to use required a different mindset and we had to keep up. We have adopted a number of technological innovations and broken new ground with overlay drawings, Master Spec, Con-doc and finally accepted the inevitable – CAD. “
Soon after, there was a huge shift from faster chipsets, the Internet, email, and cloud systems. Today we use graphics and BIM software such as Revit, Enscape, Bluebeam, Sketchup, AutoCAD and others to communicate, design, document and present. Often times, the only design tool we use is a laptop; the drawing tables, rulers and old pressure rollers are just a nostalgic memory.
Starting from its locally focused projects and small staff in the 1980s, OLC eventually expanded its services and reach by adding offices in Orlando, Tokyo and Cairo to serve local customers. Recognizing that the unique and specific needs of our customers required specialized services, we also added a water design department and an interior design department on the side.
Over the past several years, OLC has designed a variety of health and wellness, hospitality, recreational, and aquatic facilities. Notable projects are:
- Estes Valley Community Center, Estes Park, Colorado
- Several buildings for the Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri
- Additions and renovations to the Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pennsylvania
- A new tennis & pickleball center clubhouse for Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- The new Lake Nona Performance Club in Orlando, Florida
- Renovation of the lobby and rooms at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Denver
- A wellness center for the Hancock Regional Medical Center in Greenfield, Indiana
- A Deepak Chopra wellness project
- Several hospitality projects for a well-known theme park developer in Florida
To this day, our company has been focused on our customers’ needs, specifically focusing on projects that keep our communities healthy – from full-service wellness centers to your neighborhood pool. Our directors and staff have had the privilege of working on many interesting and life changing projects over these 60 years. For this we would like to thank our customers, our consultants, industry experts, the contractors who created our designs, and the many people we got to know.
When we reflect on our past, we can confidently say, as the ad says, “We learned a thing or two.” But it also sharpens our focus on what’s important in a world of constant change: relationships , Responsibility, good design and open-mindedness.
Stuart Ohlson and Hervey Lavoie, FMFA are the original founders of the 60 year old architectural firm Ohlson Lavoie Corporation, or OLC as it is known today.