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On our latest visit to Phoenix Day, a lighting and metalwork manufacturer based in the Bayview, the team shared with us a collection of over 2,000 drawings made between the 1920s and 1970s by their former senior designer. Phoenix Day is one of San Francisco’s oldest businesses, and played an important role in the rebuilding of the city after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It remains family owned to this day. Owner Tony Brenta shared this company history with us. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Milton B. Roller became the senior designer for the Phoenix Day after working for the Thomas Day Company, founded in 1850. A self-taught artist, he turned down an art scholarship to UC Berkley to work in the lighting industry.

Utilizing his design talent, book smarts, and a healthy work ethic he took on a hybrid role with Phoenix Day. He would meet with clients, including many large churches and hotels, and become an on spot “sales-designer” captivating ideas from the clients and doing many of his drawings in the field. Some of his designs can be seen in such iconic landmarks as the Clift Hotel, Bohemian Club and Ahwahnee Lodge.

Mr. Roller was a short man, about 5’ 4”, always in a 3-piece suit with a gold watch chain and his soft leather handbag full of drawing supplies.

In a 1973 newspaper article from “Peninsula Living” he was acknowledged as the oldest commuter in the San Francisco Area at the age of 94. Working till his very last years, Milton B. Roller left behind a wonderful collection of his life’s work, over 2,200 detailed drawings, which have been digitally archived by the Phoenix Day Company.

“His talent for freehand drawing fit the architecture of the times. We’ve been able to utilize his diversity and incorporate his lines into a sleeker version of our times, which is the elegant sophistication we see now through Phoenix Day.”–Tony Brenta