Architect Pon Chinn left mark on Columbia

Monday, June 13, 2011 | 10:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:38 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The clubhouse located at L.A. Nickell Golf Course in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Pon Chinn was waiting tables in Nebraska when a patron, who owned an architecture company, noticed that the young man could take orders from huge tables without using a pen or paper.

After visiting for a while, the man was impressed and offered him a job at his firm. It was a career Mr. Chinn developed for the rest of his life.


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His projects, big and small, can be seen around Columbia and the surrounding areas.

Mr. Chinn died last week at age 84.

Among some of his larger projects, he designed the concrete canopies that existed in downtown Columbia for almost four decades, the terminal at Columbia Regional Airport, the clubhouse at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course and both the City of Columbia golf course clubhouses.

Kimi Chinn Rother, one of his three children, is also an architect. She moved back to Columbia 25 years ago to work alongside her father at his firm, Chinn & Associates.

Chinn Rother said her father's goal for designing the downtown canopies was to unify the look of downtown to help it compete with Columbia's main shopping mall.

Although the finished product was controversial, Chinn Rother said he viewed the canopies as a matter of function, and the rest was "a matter of like or dislike."

“(His style was) simple, efficient, blending in with the natural colors and materials of the surrounding area," his daughter said, "and he was into low maintenance.”

Brad Wright, now the Wright of Peckham & Wright Architects of Columbia, worked for Mr. Chinn when Wright's family first moved to Columbia. 

"He was a great architect," Wright said. "He knew how to enjoy life, and he knew how to cook outta this world."

Mr. Chinn liked hosting parties — always involving food — and Wright remembers one that included a butchered hog. It brought together business clients, friends and business acquaintances. Wright said this party and others helped his family feel at home and make connections to Columbia.

Mr. Chinn's fun-loving nature, combined with his talent and artistic capabilities, led to lively design discussions, Wright said.

Golf was also an incredible love of his, Chinn Rother said.

He saw learning golf as an educational process that taught etiquette and ethics and the honor of the game. His philosophy was that golf gave the ability to communicate with people, she said.

"A lot of the foreign students he befriended, one of the first things he would say (is), ‘You’ve got to learn how to play golf,’" Chinn Rother said. "He knew that a lot of networking takes place on the golf course, and it gets you to meet people from all different areas and backgrounds."

In the early 1990s the A.L. Gustin Golf Course clubhouse needed to be replaced. Mr. Chinn drew up basic plans, which were put on a brochure. He didn't know if the project would ever be completed, said Richard Poe, who was the MU men's golf coach and course golf professional at the time.

Using the brochure, Poe and others were able to raise $700,000 for the new clubhouse.

The university not only approved the new clubhouse, Poe said, but the project also initiated about $1.5 million in improvements that would be made during the next 20 years.

"He was not a great golfer but an avid golfer," Poe said. "He was a true social golfer. Day after day, even if he wasn't golfing, he was there with his friends."

Mr. Chinn's family plans to set up a memorial in his name, and part of it will go to support local youth golf programs. 

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Ellis Smith June 14, 2011 | 6:01 a.m.

Nice, and informative, article.

(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs June 14, 2011 | 3:12 p.m.

We were very fortunate to have Mr. Chinn work on several of our park projects. We are sorry to hear of his passing.

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