Charles Pankow


Charles Pankow

Professional Engineer – Constructor – Distinguished Community Leader

Design-Build Method – Concrete – Slipform Technique

Fifty-ninth National Honor Member Nominated by the Purdue University Chapter

Charles J. Pankow, Jr. (1923-2004) established his eponymous construction company in the belief that success in his industry could be achieved by deploying innovation construction and project delivery technologies that benefited his clients. The Charles Pankow Foundation, which Mr. Pankow founded in 2002, funded this oral history collection to document the professional achievements of the man and his firm.

Charles Pankow was born in South Bend, Indiana, to Charles Pankow, a construction company engineer, and Bessie Holt Pankow. He graduated from South Bend High School, after which he entered Purdue University to study civil engineering. His studies were interrupted by serving in the U.S. Navy, seeing duty with the rank of Ensign in post-World War II Japan. After completing his service in the Navy, he returned to Purdue and graduated in 1947 with a B.S. degree in civil engineering.

Mr. Pankow married his wife Doris on September 11, 1945. Shortly after his graduation, the Pankows moved to California and for many years made their home in Altadena and San Francisco. After 15 years in the construction industry “Charlie”, as he was known to friends and family, formed his own construction company in 1963, starting Charles Pankow Builders in his garage in Altadena. For more than 40 years, he was a pioneer in concrete-forming technology and a champion of the design-build method for faster and more efficient construction of buildings (his firm once completed a 40-story condominium in seven months). Charles Pankow Builders has constructed more than 1,000 structures between Hawaii and New York, including department stores, offices and residential complexes, and medical and sports facilities. Recent projects in the Los Angeles area include the Metropolitan Transit Authority Headquarters, his largest project at a cost of $220 million next to Union Station, which is called East Portal, an entrance to the subway system, and Paseo Colorado in Pasadena. Among other projects have been the Metropolitan Water District headquarters; the University of Hawaii’s sports arena; and Honolulu Park Place, a residential tower. The Paramount, a 39-story residential tower his firm completed in San Francisco in 2002, is the tallest precast concrete structure on the West Coast.

During his distinguished career, Mr. Pankow invented processes for manufacturing hollow-concrete piles using a slipform technique and slipforming vertical air conditioning ducts. He created innovative systems for increasing project automation, including total onsite pre-casting of structural and architectural elements. He is perhaps best-known for his leadership in the development of moment-frame technology that has advanced the science and art of earthquake resistant construction. His company holds two patents in concrete pre-casting and job-site automation.

Mr. Pankow was a leading member of more than a dozen national associations and academies, including the American Concrete Institute (ACI), American Arbitration Association, Structural Engineers Association of Southern California, and ASCE, among others. In 1980, he served as president of ACI, whose Southern California chapter he had helped form in 1957 – the first local ACI chapter in the U.S. He was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in 1997. He was a noted speaker at numerous state and national conventions, and he authored several chapters in the Concrete Construction Handbook by Joseph Waddell. Purdue University presented him with an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1983.

Mr. Pankow was especially honored in 1999 to be recognized by Engineering News-Record (ENR) as one of the Top Six World Builders during ENR’s 125-year history. His career was also replete with other awards and peer recognition for his many contributions, such as: Design-Build Institute of America’s Brunelleschi Medal for Lifetime Achievement in 2003, ASCE’s OPAL Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Construction in 2002, Purdue University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, ACI’s Henry C. Turner Medal Award in 1990, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Industry Achievement Award in 1993, and many others.

Mr. Pankow was well-known as a connoisseur of the arts, having established a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Russian artifacts. He amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian and Greek icons in the United States. Over the years, Charles Pankow and his estate have contributed generously to several educational institutions, most notably Purdue University, where two concrete laboratories bear his name.

Throughout his distinguished career, Bay has challenged civil engineers to always do their best professionally. Even now, despite his retirement and all of his past accomplishments, he serves on the Public Relations Board and Patient Safety Council of the Missouri Baptist Hospital. He is a member of the Alumni Alliance of the University of Missouri representing UMR and is a frequent speaker on engineering and military topics at service organizations and schools. He is an active member of his church, service as a deacon, bible teacher, and as a building chairman. He has also been on missionary trips to Ecuador and Romania.

Charles J. Pankow, Jr. was initiated as Chapter Honor Member by the Purdue chapter of Chi Epsilon in 2003. He was elevated to National Honor Member at a special ceremony at Purdue University, his beloved alma mater, on April 23, 2006. He was elevated posthumously, having been selected to receive the award prior to his death.

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