Male, born 1909-06, died 1939-12-15

Associated with the firm network

Farm Security Administration

Professional History

Draftsman, Various architectural offices, San Francisco, prior to 1933; Planning Technician, San Mateo Planning Commission, San Mateo, CA, c. 1933-1935; Chief of Architecture and Engineering for the Southwestern States, Resettlement Administration, (later known as the Farm Security Administration), Region 9, San Francisco, CA, 1935-1939.

draftswoman at the Ames Shipbuilding and Drydock Company office in San Francisco, and later moved across the bay to work in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards


B.Arch., University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Berkeley, CA, 1927-1931.

Member, Tau Beta Pi (National Engineering Scholastic Honor Society), University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Berkeley, CA, 1929-1931. (See, " U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 forBurton D Cairns,


Charles Cairns and his family lived with his elder brother James's family in 1910, in US Census Township #1, an unincorporated part of San Mateo County; another brother, John, lived next door. Burton was 11 months old in 05/1910. In 1930, Cairns resided with his parents in a residence (valued at $8,000) at 523 Walnut Street in East Palo Alto, CA, and he seems to have maintained his permanent address there from at least 1927 until the mid-1930s. The San Francisco City Directory [p. 226] indicated that Cairns lived in Berkeley in 1937-1938, and commuted into San Francisco to work in a Department of Agriculture office building. (The 1937 Oakland City Directory [p. 160] indicated that he and his wife lived at 1348 Euclid Avenue in Berkeley.) The 1937 [p. 53] and 1939 [p. 51] Palo Alto City Directories stated, however, that he continued to live on Walnut Street in East Palo Alto. By 1937, he may have lived in Berkeley but also assisted his mother with operation of the East Palo Alto poultry farm at the same time. Cairns died in an automobile accident on 12/15/1939 at the age of 30. He died instantly at 2:50 P.M., one mile from Tigard, OR, on Highway 99, when his car collided with a Pacific Greyhound bus. (See, "California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985 for Burton Donald Cairns,"Accessed 09/19/2014.) A passenger in the car with Cairns, landscape architect Garrett Eckbo (1910-2000), was seriously injured in the crash. (See "Body Identified as San Francisco Man", San Bernardino County Sun, 12/17/1939, p. 3). Cairns was buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, CA.

His mother, Katherine (born c. 1877 in Canada), survived Burton; his father, Charles Cairns, (born c. 1865), died before 1939. They both were born in English-speaking Canada; his parents came from Northern Ireland. Charles migrated to the US in 1883, Katherine in 1905, according to the occasionally correct 1930 US Census. (The 1910 US Census stated that his father came to the US in 1885, his mother in 1894.) In 1910, Charles worked as a carpenter along with his older brother, James; by the late 1920s, however, he worked as a poultry farmer, while his mother managed the household. Katherine's father came from Scotland, her mother from English-speaking Canada. In the 1910s, poultry farming became popular in East Palo Alto, CA, as a result of the efforts of Charles Weeks, a promoter within the "Little Lands Movement."

He married Emmy Lou Packard, born in El Centro, CA, on 04/15/1914, the daughter of Walter Eugene Packard and Emma S. Leonard. They married after her 1936 graduation from the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), where she was the arts editor of the Daily Californian and a talented painter. She became friends with Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. After Burton's death in 1939, she traveled to Mexico to live with Rivera and Kahlo, working as their studio assistant. During World War II, she returned to the Bay Area, and worked as a draftwoman for the Ames Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and subsequently with the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, CA. She lived at 547 Francisco Street in San Francisco in 1953, the year she traveled back from Europe aboard the French ocean liner, the Ile de France. She married Byron T. Randall on 05/29/1959, but divorced him in 1972. She resided at 3350 18th Street in San Francisco, CA, in 1973. She died in San Francisco in 1998.

He and Emmy Lou had one child, Donald.

Cairns was responsible, with Vernon A. De Mars (1908-2005), for the design and planning of the Farm Security Administration's Chandler Farm Workers Community, Chandler, AZ, 1936-1937. In 1939, Cairns was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighed about 190 pounds. Cairns' work with De Mars for the Farm Security Administration was published widely, and their Yuba City Farm Worker's Community (1940) was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art's "The Wooden House in America" Exhibition, staged in 09/1941. Cairns and De Mars were featured along with other CA architects, Gregory Ain (1908-1988) and Harwell Hamilton Harris (1903-1990) in this MoMA show (MoMA Exh. #146).

Associated Locations

  • Tigard, OR (Architect's Death)
    Tigard, OR

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  • San Francisco, CA (Architect's Birth)
    San Francisco, CA

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PCAD id: 4620