From the fairy-tale whimsy of the Lake Harriet Band Shell to the rocket-ship spires of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, award-winning architect Robert Rietow’s legacy elegantly soars across Minnesota in dozens of iconic public projects and houses of worship.
Rietow, who founded the Bentz/Thompson/Rietow architectural firm, died Feb. 18 at his winter home in Rio Verde, Ariz., after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 76.
“Bob knew how to pull a team together,” said Ann Voda, the current president of the firm who worked with Rietow for a dozen years and considered him a mentor.
“Sometimes, putting a building together isn’t always a straight line,” she said. “People don’t always agree on the best paths to take, so he was a good mediator in that sense of bringing differing opinions to a positive closure.”
Born in Sheboygan, Wis., Rietow moved with his family to Minneapolis, where he was an ace pitcher for the Washburn Millers high school team that went 17-2 to win the 1955 state championship. Rietow studied architecture at the University of Minnesota and became a founding member of his firm in 1971.
As principal-in-charge of most of the firm’s projects until his retirement in 2005, Rietow juggled clients’ wishes with his own project management skills to help nab more than 50 architectural awards.
“He was very professional, organized and logical with a very dry sense of humor,” Voda said. “His demeanor in meetings was always about getting the work done — but he was always the guy who brought the doughnuts, too.”
The firm’s 1987 Lake Harriet Band Shell, with its pointy towers, steep roof and massive lake-framing windows, recently won the 25-Year Award, handed out by the American Institute of Architects’ Minnesota branch in recognition of exemplary projects that have withstood the test of time.
“That band shell was the thing he was most proud of,” said his daughter, Cari Rietow Larson.
Rietow also had a hand in a long line of places of worship, from the pitch-perfect acoustics of Wooddale (1987) to the perfectly matched 2003 Bell Tower at the historic Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He also is credited with the 1972 St. Olaf Catholic Church Chapel in Minneapolis and the 2002 Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka.
Educational buildings were another of his firm’s specialties, including the 1992 New Main at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul and Winona State University’s 1999 Main Library.
After years on its board of directors, Rietow served as the Minnesota president of the American Institute of Architects in 1978 and was active on the St. John’s Lutheran Church Council. A hard-core golfer, especially after retirement at his snowbird home in Arizona, Rietow traveled the world with his wife of 57 years, Dorothy, and snapped more than 5,000 slides.
“His trip to Egypt was probably his favorite because of his love of architecture,” his daughter said.
Added Voda: “We are trying to maintain this strong legacy that started with Bob and was maintained so well over all the years when he was leading the ship. He placed the highest value on the creation of great spaces for people to live, work, worship and play.”
In addition to his wife, known as Dottie, a former Met Council member and leader of the Republican Feminist Caucus, and his daughter, Rietow is survived by sons Gregory Rietow of Loretto and Richard Rietow of Brooklyn Park, and six grandchildren.
Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday with visitation at noon at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 4842 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis. Interment will follow at Lakewood Cemetery.