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Girl Stalker. This lover of open spaces grew up within a block of one of the biggest urban open spaces in the U.S.—Chicago's Lake Michigan. "I can't remember when I didn't want to be an architect," says Pereira. As a boy, he was seldom without a sketchbook in his hand; at twelve, he had a part-time job as a sign painter. He worked his way through the University of Illinois painting scenery, illustrating menus and lecture notes for a duplicating company, picking up odd art jobs. He majored in architecture, minored in physics, bore down heavily on history, and rationed his time between so many projects (he was captain of the fencing team) that he wore himself down from 175 Ibs. to 130. He graduated in June 1930—straight into the Depression.
After pounding Chicago's pavements for three months, Pereira found a job at the Chicago architectural firm of Holabird & Root, was assigned to help plan an $8 billion public redevelopment project. His salary: $90 a month. It was hardly enough for courting, but Pereira lived it up when he could. One night, when he was dancing at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, a stunning brunette passed his table. "I'd never seen anyone to compare with that beauty," says Pereira, "and I still haven't." He began haunting the city's nightspots in hopes of getting another glimpse of her. Four months later, he spotted her in an office building, bribed the elevator man to get her name, and began stalking her in earnest.
She turned out to be Margaret McConnell, a fashion artist for Marshall Field's department store and a top photographer's model (she was the Coca-Cola girl of the period and the first girl to appear in a color photograph for Camel cigarettes). It was two months more before Pereira managed to start a conversation with her on a bus, and four years after that they were married. Today they have a son and a daughter: Bill Jr., 25, and Monica, 16.
A View of the Veins. Pereira decided to strike out on his own in architecture. He stalked new business as he had stalked Margaret. Hearing that a new TB sanatorium was to be built in Waukegan, he spent three months reading books on hospitals, talking to doctors, studying disease rates and nurse-patient ratios. His high-pressure expertise so snowed the selection committee that he won the job over many a more seasoned architect. Entering no fewer than 25 industrial-design competitions at Chicago's 1933 exposition, he won 22. When a Balaban & Katz movie theater offered to spend $5,000 on drapery and upholstery, Pereira remodeled the entire theater for the same price. Later, Barney Balaban gave him $18 million worth of work on the chain's theaters.
It was Margaret who took Pereira to California. He followed her to the coast when she had a brief fling in the movies. Out West, he felt immediately at home. "I looked around at the colors, the terrain, the architectural opportunities, and I knew this was going to be the place," he says.