Threadlines of Geotechnical and Engineering Geology firms in the Greater Los Angeles Metro-Southern California Area




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Douglas E. Moran, Inc. (1974-onward)

Douglas E. Moran CEG, GE was both a geologist and geotechnical engineer (BS Geol ’58; MSCE ~’62 USC). He was educated at USC and he worked for Donald E. Warren Co in the early 1960s, while he was completing his master’s in soil mechanics at USC. He was one of the first approved engineering geologists by the City of Los Angeles in 1961. In the late 1960s he worked for Hood & Schmidt, Geotechnical Consultants, and R.T. Frankian, before moving to Orange County in the early 1970s, to work for Leighton & Associates. When Bing Yen split up with Leighton in 1973, Moran became Leighton’s chief soils engineer for a time (in 1973-74). During this time he co-edited the noteworthy volume titled “Geology, seismicity and environmental impact,” AEG Special Publication, released in 1973. He started his own firm around late 1974 and has always been based in Tustin, CA. One of his first projects after incorporating his firm in 1977 was the 1978 Big Rock Mesa landslide litigation. Rodney T. Masuda (BS Geol ‘78; MS ‘81 USC) was Doug’s senior associate and technical manager/chief geologist until 2001, when he moved to Praad Geotechnical.


G. A. Nicoll & Associates (1974-2008)

Founded by engineering geologist Gerry A. Nicoll, CEG around 1974. Previous to this, Nicoll had worked for the Donald R. Warren Co. in the early 1960s, Geotechnical Consultants (mid 60s), Stone Geological Services (late 60s), Soil Mechanics & Foundation Engineers (1969-71), and with Leighton & Associates (1971-73).

G.A. Nicoll & Associates were based in Santa Ana, then later in Irvine. Peter C. Yong (RCE 19,282) was Vice President and Chief Engineer, between 1976-79.


Converse Foundation Engineering Company (1946-59); Converse Foundation Engineers (1960-66); Converse, Davis & Associates (1966-78); Converse-Ward-Davis-Dixon (1978-1983); Converse Consultants (1983-2001?); and, Converse Professional Group

There is an Oral History Interview with Frederick J. Converse performed in 1978 by the Oral History Project at the Caltech Archives in Pasadena. See http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechOH;OH_Converse_F

Frederick J. Converse (RCE 1467) began his engineering career in 1916 as an instructor of Engineering in Rochester, New York.  After spending a couple of years with the U.S. Bureau of Aircraft Production doing physical testing of aircraft parts, then serving in the military providing engineering services for military facilities and war related projects throughout the western United States, he worked as a Design Engineer for the Los Angeles City Bureau of Power & Light.  In 1920 Converse began teaching civil engineering courses in the Engineering Division at the newly-formed California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

While continuing to teach at Caltech, Fred Converse established a partnership with R.V. LaBarre in 1933; became a sole proprietor in 1936; then established a partnership in 1940 with Donald R. Warren; then began what came to be known as Converse Consultants, sometime between 1946-49. Throughout his working years, Mr. Converse was intrigued by soil and foundation engineering services, and some say his name was synonymous with “soils engineering.” Not only was Frederick Converse known for his enthusiasm for soils and foundation engineering, his friends and acquaintances knew him particularly well as a “gentleman”. 

Fred Converse took on James R. “Bob” Davis (BSCE ‘48, MS ‘49 Caltech) as an employee in 1949, shortly after his graduation from Caltech. Bob Davis received increasing responsibilities and eventually became the president and chief executive officer when Fred Converse retired in 1966. Bob was part of the post-war group of close-knit Caltech engineers who influenced much of the post-war practice in Los Angeles, such as William J. Carroll (BSCE '48; M.S. '49), who became CEO of J.M. Montgomery, the largest sanitary engineering firm in the nation (also based in Pasadena), and LeVal Lund (BSCE ‘47), a fellow Navy V-12 Program officer with Bob, who rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to become chief engineer of their water division, between 1971-89. There also existed a small but influential cadre of older Caltech alumni who were well-positioned to dole out consulting work, such as Markham E. "Ham" Salsbury (BSCE ’25), long-time Assistant and then Chief Engineer of the LACoFCD, from 1943-65. MWD did a lot of work with Converse in the 1960s and 70s.
In 1966 the firm’s name became Converse, Davis & Associates and Jack Schoustra became the chief engineer (Schoustra co-authored the 1968 text Soil Mechanics & Engineering with Caltech Professor Ron Scott). Their office was located at 126 Del Mar Blvd in Pasadena. In late 1968 six associates became owners of the firm, in equal parts: J. Robert Davis, PE, Jack J. Schoustra, PE, Roy A. Hoffman, CEG, Jay L. Smith, CEG, Charles R. MacFadyen, PE (BSCE, Univ Saskatchewan, 1955), Thomas D. Lake, PE, and Schaefer J. Dixon, PE. Other senior staff included Paul Davis, CEG, who worked for the firm in 1963-67 and 1968-73 before departing to manage the geologists at Fugro (1973-79), and Hugh Mulholland, who was a staff engineer. Howard A. “Buzz” Spellman (BA Geol ’53, Cincinnati) joined the firm in 1964 and succeeded George Curtin (a former DWR geologist) to become the firm’s senior engineering geologist in 1981, where he remained until retiring in 1996.
Schaefer J. Dixon (BSCE ’58; MS ‘62 Berkeley) became Chief Engineer after Jay Smith and Jack Schoustra departed to start Fugro in 1970. The firm opened a branch office in Orange County in 1965, managed by Chuck MacFadyen, and Las Vegas in 1976 (also managed by MacFadyen).
In 1978 Converse merged with Joseph S. Ward & Associates of Caldwell, New Jersey and become Converse-Ward-Davis-Dixon, making them a coast-to-coast company. At that time the Washington, DC, Tampa, and San Francisco office of Ward were also absorbed into the new firm. They hired Gene Miller of Harding Lawson Assoc as the new manager for the San Francisco branch office. In 1981 they then opened a new office in Seattle with Eugene Macmaster as the manager. Bob Davis (1924-1982) remained as Chairman of the Board until he died of bone cancer in July 1982. Joe Ward stepped down as President and CEO of the firm in 1983 and retired to Florida, where he died of a heart attack in January 1994. The firm name changed to Converse Consultants West around ~1983. They also split off a separate firm named Converse Environmental in the mid 1980s, with offices in Pasadena and Costa Mesa. Converse was headquartered in Pasadena until the late 1990s, when they sold their property on Walnut Street and moved to Monrovia. Converse Consultants is now to an employee-owned company with 10 national locations and over 300 employees. It is headquartered in Monrovia under the name The Converse Professional Group. Branch offices Costa Mesa and Redlands.

Schaefer Dixon Associates (1982-1991)

In April 1982 Schaefer Dixon (BSCE ‘58, MS ‘62 U.C. Berkeley) broke off from Converse, forming Schaefer Dixon Associates, based in Los Angeles. They moved to Irvine in 1984; bought Medall & Worswick around 1986, then shifted their headquarters to Santa Ana. In 1988 they built their own building in Irvine. They bought Pioneer Consultants [owned by Dave Turner] of Redlands around 1987. Ellis J. Jones was one of the principals when the firm launched. Robert J. Lynn, CEG joined as a principal a few years later, along with Paul Davis, CEG (BA Geol ’63 Berkeley; MA ’83 CSULA) as a partner (from with purchase of Medal-Worswick, along with Ann Ogden Meeker, CEG). Other partners were Jay Weaver, GE, Jeff Butelo, CEG and Gary Dupuy, CHG (from Calgary), and John Foster, PG, CHG (teaches at CSU-Fullerton). They did a lot of geoenvironmental work. Jay Weaver also a principal. They acquired Medall, Worswick & Associates in March 1986, and moved their headquarters to Santa Ana, maintaining branch offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. Bob Lynn and Paul Davis were their principal geologists at that time. In 1990 James R. Miller (MS Geol Eng ‘76 CSM; formerly with ERTEC) became the firm’s president. Dixon became board chair and served as president of the Consulting Engineers Assn of California in 1990-91. The firm was sold to the Huntingdon International Holdings (Group) of Great Britain in March 1991.

In 2006 Schaefer Dixon (1936-2009) donated $800,000 to U.C. Berkeley to establish the H. Bolton Seed Professorship and the Schaefer J. Dixon Fund in Geotechnical Engineering, to support outstanding graduate students in geoengineering. He and his wife Sharon divorced and he never re-married, pursuing his passion for yachting. He died of cancer in April 2009 at his home along Sugar Creek in Callahan, CA. Ellis Jones was with Converse, SFO branch office, then Las Vegas, before joining SDA. He would know more about the firm.


Fugro (1970-77)

Fugro was founded in 1970 by Jaap “Jack” Schoustra, PE (1931-1997) (BS, MS Delft Tech Univ) and Jay Smith (BS Geol ‘58 UCLA), who were both partners at Converse-Davis in Pasadena. Schoustra had a falling out with Bob Davis at Converse, and left the firm in 1970. Schoustra (who was Dutch) went to Holland to consult with Fugro, BV and they provided $200K start-up funds for a new firm in southern CA. Smith was a recent graduate of the Dale Carnegie course and soon emerged as their marketing genius. They set up an office in modest quarters on 7th Street in Long Beach, with just four employees.  During their first year of operation they succeeded in luring about six of Converse’s more experienced people, including: Stanley B. Madson (CEG, PE), John Scott, CEG, Richard Fallgren, PE, and two native Scotsmen, soil technicians Angus McGregor (field sampling manager) and Bill Bryson (or Brightsman), who managed their soils lab.

The Feb 1971 San Fernando Earthquake created an increased demand for cone penetrometer (CPT) work in southern CA, for evaluating liquefaction potential of hydraulic fill dams (some 30 dams were replaced in CA over next 20 years) and many low lying sites thought to be susceptible to liquefaction. Schoustra and Smith invested in a SMC dynamic triaxial soil test bed and marketed themselves to perform soil dynamics, which offered little competition and was in great demand. Fugro initiated a “hire for the moment” policy and began accumulating work at an unprecedented pace, growing to 200 employees in their first four years (1970-74). They quickly gained many impressive clients, including: LA Dept of Water & Power, Southern Cal Edison, San Diego Power & Light, Southern San Joaquin MUD, Arizona Public Service, US DoD MX missile complexes, etc., etc.

Fugro purchased an entire office building in 1973, located on Long Beach Blvd., where they sported the largest group of engineering geologists ever assembled by any consulting firm in southern California, including such notables as Roy Shlemon and Allen Hatheway, to name a few.  Other senior personnel included structural engineer C. B. Crouse; Manager of Geology Paul Davis, CEG (1973-79), Geoff Martin, GE (PhD ’65 Berkeley), J. Carl Stepp (from the NRC-their best marketer), Hudson Matlock, PE, Kenneth Wilson, CEG, Carl Johnson, CEG, Ricardo Guzman, GE., Carlos Espana, GE (MSCE ’68 Berkeley), who later owned Espana Geotechnical in Roseville (purchased by Fugro), Dean Gregg, CHG (head of hydrogeology dept), Robert Stoller, CHG, etc., etc.  Around 1975 Fugro acquired a career marketing person in Diane Creel, who had been working for CH2M-Hill. She went on to become the successor firm’s President and CEO in 1988 (see write-up on ERTEC, below).

Fugro marketed their services for seismic risk assessments, preparing seismic safety elements for municipal general plans (required by a new State law, passed in wake of the 1971 earthquake) and NRC-mandated Preliminary Safety Analysis Reports (PSARs) for nuclear power plants. They also marketed their services aggressively for conventional geotechnical services, such as foundation engineering, offshore drilling platforms, and pipelines.  They operated the first electronic recording CPT rigs in the United States, mounted on 5-ton ex-Army Signal Corps van-bodied trucks, using the electronically-recording Dutch cones manufactured in The Netherlands.


Fugro BV (1977-86); Fugro-McClellan (1986-94); Fugro-West, Inc., (1994-present)

The parent Fugro firm in the Netherlands is a European-based company founded in 1962. Around 1977 they established a Houston office known as Fugro-Gulf, which focused on offshore drilling platforms. Today's Fugro is the product of the 1986 merger of two long-standing competitors with worldwide operations: Fugro, and McClelland Engineers, a US-based company founded in 1947 in the Houston area. The combined group provides the unique experience and technology needed to successfully provide geotechnical, hydrogeologic, environmental, and marine survey services.

Dutch Fugro BV established a branch office in Oxnard run by Kerry Campbell around 1977, which relocated to Ventura a few years later, where the office was managed by Michael R. Ploessel, CEG (BS Geol ’70 USC), who went into geoenvironmental work with Black & Veatch in Irvine. When Fugro joined with McClelland in 1986 the firm name changed to Fugro-McClelland in the late 1980s (need details of firm’s absorption by McClelland).

In 1992 Fugro-McClelland purchased Stall, Gardner and Dunn of Ventura and K-C Geotechnical Engineers (Ken Clements) in Santa Barbara. In 1994 Fugro acquired John E. Chance, and their Ventura operation (formerly Land and Sea Surveys) became a part of Fugro West. Land and Sea Surveys has roots in California extending back to 1950. During the 1990s, Fugro added offices in San Luis Obispo and Oakland to represent the Central Coast and Bay area, respectively. Fugro's California operations were expanded into the San Francisco Bay Area with the acquisition of Subsurface Consultants (SCI) in 2001 and the infrastructure operations of MWH Energy & Infrastructure, Inc. (MWH E&I) in 2002, and Espana Geotechnical in 2007.

Fugro West maintains west coast offices in Ventura and Oakland. By 2009 the senior leadership for Fugro Consultants, Inc. was provided by Joseph M. Cibor, President; Timothy N. Dunne (former president); William R. Lettis; and John A. Wooley.   


ERTEC, INC. (1980)

Earth Technology Corporation (ERTEC) succeeded Fugro in a buy-out scheme in 1980-81. It later became Earth Technology Resources Corporation, and then, ERTEC-Western. Last known address is 100 West Broadway, Suite 5000, in Long Beach. (213) 495-4449, (714) 821-7062. Original President and CEO was Jack Schoustra, who started Fugro after leaving Converse in 1970. They entered the geoenvironmental market in 1980s, with high-visibility clients like International Technologies, etc. Geoffrey R. Martin (PhD ’65 Berkeley) managed the earthquake engineering group, then Vice President of Engineering, between 1977-90. Nicholas R. Hild was Vice President and Principal-in-Charge of Western Regional Operations between ~1986-91. In 1988 Diane Creel succeeded Schoustra as President of Earth Technology Corp. They acquired Aqua Resources of Berkeley in 1990. Ray Moresco, CHG was Chief Hydrogeologist in the 1990s. The firm then merged with Tyco International, Ltd. in Nov. 1995.

Earth Technology was originally founded in 1970(?), performed technical consulting on environmental and engineering projects for Southern California Edison, General Motors and eight of the 10 largest oil companies. Leighton and Associates purchased the geotechnical testing lab from ERTEC in 1996/7.
In 2008, ERTEC was absorbed by AECOM, owners of ENSR: Environmental Consultants and Engineers, an 1800-person firm headquartered in Westford, MA. Jim Miller was President of ERTEC-Western (now president of Brown & Caldwell in Walnut Creek) and Steve Scott may be the best people to ask. Tom Blake, CEG (MS CSU Northridge) Chief Geologist of Fugro-McClellan in Ventura.

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