The first inkling he had of a career in architecture came at his discharge when a Veterans Administration aptitude test suggested the profession. "That surprised me," Imada said. He had always been interested in architecture, but had never been an artist.
Throughout his career Imada would be associated with the top people in the field, starting with his professor at Harvard, Walter Gropius, one of the founders of the International Style. Imada gained another perspective on modernism in 1952 when he left school for a year to work in the field. "It was when Bay Area residential architecture was getting a lot of play," Imada said in an interview, "and it appealed to me very much."
He interviewed at Anshen + Allen, which were just starting work on Eichler homes. Steve Allen helped Imada get a carpenter's job with a Berkeley contractor. Imada worked the next two summers at Anshen + Allen, meeting Claude Oakland, a designer there, and many of the other architects doing modern homes in the Bay Area: George Rockrise, Campbell & Wong, Roger Lee, Joseph Esherick, Gardner Dailey. It was an exciting period, with much camaraderie and sharing of ideas.
Over the next decade Imada worked for several of the chief Bay Area designers, including Dailey, Clark and Beuttler, John Carl Warnecke, and John Funk, with whom he spent three years. In 1959 Imada briefly established his own partnership with Dudley Wynkoop, a colleague from Warnecke's office. The partnership was Wynkoop's idea. They built their own desks and drafting tables, and did one major project, the Cala Foods store at California and Hyde streets in San Francisco with an unusual catenary roof. "We thought that would lead to more jobs," Imada said, "and actually it didn't."
So when Oakland, who founded his own firm in 1960, asked Imada to join, he was ready. Imada spent the rest of his career with Oakland, until his partner died in 1989. They worked primarily on Eichler homes until Eichler died in 1974. Although Oakland was the chief designer, Imada designed several projects, including Jordan Quad, a very Eichlerian cluster of offices at Stanford. Imada also handled the Kaiser Permanente work, designing and remodeling medical offices and hospitals throughout the Bay Area. The firm continued until Imada retired five years ago.
The work Imada enjoyed the most was for Eichler. "I felt we were providing something that was worthwhile," he said. Oakland and Imada made a wonderful working team, colleagues recall, and they were close friends, traveling together, and entertaining often. Eventually they bought a duplex in the city overlooking Alamo Square, each occupying one of the units. Imada continued to live in the airy, second-floor apartment until his death, hosting dinner parties, and inviting friends to watch Bay-to-Breakers runners as they huffed up 'heartbreak hill.'
Imada traveled during his retirement, socialized often, shared his memories of Eichler with historians and fans, practiced his piano, and took a class in memoir writing. He wrote movingly about being ostracized by classmates at his Japanese school after being treated for tuberculosis at a sanitarium when he was 13. The shame he felt lasted for years. He wrote about the virtues of honesty, dignity, politeness, and pride that had been instilled in him by his parents and other members of Fresno's Japanese community, and about how shocking it was as a member of the occupation Army to see Japanese men groveling for cigarettes and "loose" Japanese girls consorting with GIs.
"Eventually I would come to realize that life is like a roulette wheel," he wrote, "and where you were when the wheel stopped was a matter of chance. And that if you had to, you did what you could to survive."