A 1959 graduate of Howard University, Bill’s firm was most active in Philadelphia. Between 1966 and 1975 he executed designs for two buildings at Cheyney University (a Maintenance Complex and a Dispensary) and the Lucien Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Public Library. He also associated with Vic Wilburn, Ted Cam, and Bob Saxon on various occasions. Ted Capers worked in his office during the design of the library and the buildings at Cheyney. He also shared office space with Joseph Baldino collaborating on the design of the Linglebach public school in Germantown (below).
I met Bill when I was “moonlighting” one night at Vic Wilburn’s office. Bill was sharing space with Vic and about to open his own office. He was confident that he “knew the right people”. And if he didn’t know them, he knew someone who did. In 1977 he used his contacts to gain an invitation to enter the design competition for the urban park now at 16th and Chestnut Streets. His joint entry with Saxon finished third to John Collins Adelman Collins and DuTot.
Bill practiced in the years before “equal opportunity” (Minority Business Enterprise) laws opened a few doors for Black architects. Once, in the mid-1970s, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) requested submission of qualifications from architects interested in assisting with a city-wide housing rehab program, Bill was insulted by the inference that a Black architect was only qualified to rehab abandoned row houses, He refused to respond and even accused PHDC of racism. His rejection of similar solicitations from various public clients led to a reliance on private clients – a very limited market for Black architects.
He was overtaken by illness in his final years and moved to Georgia, living there until his death.
Mel was a talented Cornell-trained architect whose technical skills were unmatched. In the days before computers did the lettering and line work, Mel’s delineation was a standard of excellence. At the same time, he conveyed the brooding self-confidence of an architect that didn’t get the recognition or opportunities he truly deserved.
In the midst of the emerging Black Power movement in the 1970s, Mel organized Ujima Architects and was commissioned to design the headquarters of the House of Umoja (HOU) – a neighborhood organization in West Philadelphia dedicated to eliminating gang violence. The project was funded by a grant from the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD). The founder of HOU was Sister Falaka Fattah, mother of Chaka Fattah who would be elected to congress some 20 years later. Ujima’s design for HOU’s headquarters imposed an “afro-centric” facade on a group of row houses in the 1400 block of North Frazier Street.
The design, however, didn’t gain the kind of attention sought by Mel. (My mother and many of her neighbors in the 1300 block of Frazier St. weren’t big fans of HOU).
A project that did get a measure of notoriety was Ujima’s 1983 entry in the competition to design a mural for the new center city commuter rail station connector tunnel – now SEPTA’s Jefferson (Market East) Station. Ujima’s entry finished third. The winning entry was composed by architect David Beck with artist Verlin Miller. Among Rose’s more conventional projects were the interior renovation of the Mann Recreation Center at 7th St. and Allegheny Ave., and the renovation of the performance Theater at Cheyney University. Both projects, as did many of UJIMA’s undertakings, had narratives of their own: Frederic Mann, a prominent Philadelphia philanthropist, removed his name from the playground and attached it to the new performance venue he helped create in West Fairmount Park (The Mann Center for the Performing Arts) – a maneuver suspiciously coincidental with the completion of Ujima’s renovation design. The Cheyney project was fraught with so many bidding and redesign problems that Mel’s firm was ultimately replaced by – guess who – David Beck!
Before getting his license in 1968, Mel worked for a number of firms in Philadelphia. In the early 1960s he was on the project team responsible for the design and documentation of a new headquarters building in Harrisburg for Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation – a 13 story building which was demolished in 1998 after it was declared uninhabitable when a catastrophic fire in 1996 unleashed hazardous materials.
Mel also worked with the late Herman Wrice at the Young Great Society Architecture and Planning Center in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia. As planning director, he was responsible for conceiving, designing. and coordinating community development initiatives. He had similar duties at the Philadelphia Housing Authority in the late 1980s.
After Zion Baptist Church was destroyed by a devastating fire in November, 1970, the same day of my youngest son’s birth in Temple Hospital across the street, Reverend Leon Sullivan, the founder of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) retained Walter to design a new one. Livingston, at the time, was associated with William Eshbach in a center city firm. The pastor at Zion Baptist Church was Leon Sullivan, a connection that led to many church commissions throughout the city for Walt. As did his various partnerships and associations with Marvin Suer, Carl Demas, William Eshbach, Lester Rosenwinkel and others. In 1961 Walt was the first Black architect to design a school for the School District of Philadelphia, Huey elementary. His relationship with Thatcher Longstreth, president of the Chamber of Commerce got him membership in the Union League. In 1986, Ted Capers and I (SaxonCapers Architects) joined with Livingston/Rosenwinkel and HOK to form Justice Center Architects to win the commission to design Philadelphia’s new Justice Center. Budget problems forced the city to abandon our design and start over. The Vitetta Group with Kelly-Maiello ultimately completed the project that now stands as the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. Walt served on boards of numerous Philadelphia institutions including the Philadelphia Tribune, the Redevelopment Authority, and the Urban League and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. When he was on the board of Berean Federal Savings & Loan, the bank hired SaxonCapers to renovate its building in West Philadelphia. Walter was also the first Black architect inducted into the College of Fellows from the American Institute of Architects’ Philadelphia Chapter. Walter, Emanuel Kelly, Michael Johns, and Dominique Hawkins are the only ones to date.
Walter was quiet, polite and unassuming. His wife, Marjorie, was the outgoing one – and a wonderful lady. The son of a patent attorney, he had degrees from Cheyney and Penn but didn’t get his architect’s license until 1960 when he was 38 years old. He was not quite the guy I expected to meet when I asked him for a job in 1969. I had just received my license and was ready to leave the National Park Service and move into the private sector. Walt was associated with William Eshbach’s firm at the time. He looked at my portfolio and referred me to his design chief who told me thanks but no thanks – they couldn’t pay me what I was asking!
A confident, creative designer, Ted graduated from Drexel Institute ( now Drexel University). He became a registered architect in 1957 at age 29. He practiced alone in Powelton Village before joining Calvin Culbreath in a partnership later in his career. Ted was given this commission by Clarence Farmer who was then a key member of the Bicentennial Commission. The building was initially planned for a site in Society Hill adjacent to Mother Bethel Church but the residents of the predominantly white neighborhood opposed it. After much political wrangling, the city decided on this site on the northwest corner of 7th and Arch Streets. With a budget of $2.5 million Cam struggled, I’m certain, with the building program. In order to provide the required exhibit space on the small plot he had to go vertical, leading to the expensive, space-consuming ramp that dominates the floor plan. He probably wondered, as I always have wondered, why the City didn’t allow using the vacant lot next door which at the time was (and still is) a parking lot. It should be noted also that the structural engineer for this building was Harry Purnell, PE, Philadelphia’s only practicing Black structural engineer. Cam’s new and renovation designs for community centers, recreation centers, churches, and housing can be seen throughout the city. In 2002 when SaxonCapers was retained to design a new reception desk to improve entrance circulation and control, there was still talk about possible expansion of the museum onto that adjacent parking lot. In 2010, extensive renovations designed by SRK Architects expanded the entrance lobby and modified the 7th Street facade with a structural glass panel.
Hubert Taylor graduated from Hampton University with a degree in architectural engineering and a prodigious apetite for fine art. I met him when I was working for Vic Wilburn and he was with Hugh Zimmer’s firm. Both firms were working on projects for SEPTA. He was project architect for renovation of the 13th Street subway-surface station. I was just starting work on fixing up 3 stations on the Broad Street subway. They were further along so Vic suggested I go talk to them about working with SEPTA. That’s when Hubert told me that the required fine art on his project was being fulfilled by himself! Yes, that porcelain enamel mural still hanging over the tracks at 13th Street was created by Hubert Taylor, architect.
Hubert spent roughly 6 months of the year doing architecture and 6 months doing art. In addition to Zimmers, he had relationships with the Livas Group in Norfolk, VA, and with SaxonCapers in Philadelphia. He also practiced under his own name. He was also part of a Philadelphia group of Black artists – Recherche – that exhibited in the US and Europe.
The Hampton University campus has at least 3 buildings designed by Hubert with the Livas Group. He designed the addition to Robin Hood Dell East with SaxonCapers; and he did the Eastwick United Methodist Church on his own. I observed construction of the church for a couple of weeks in 1986 while Hubert was in Denmark with Recherche, but I didn’t see the finished product until I went there for Hubert’s funeral service in 1991. The Eastwick UMC exemplifies Hubert’s great skill as both architect and artist. I was struck by the contrast of the interior’s drama with the exterior’s modesty. The building’s functional, unassuming massing relates beautifully to its neighbors, while contrasting vividly with the delicate proportions of the sky lighted sanctuary.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Victor Hugo Wilburn came to Philadelphia after graduating from Chicago University and Harvard. He opened his office in West Philadelphia after working a few years in the 1960s for the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The addition to the Bryant Elementary School (built in Southwest Philadelphia in 1904) was probably his first major municipal project in a career that included housing rehab, recreation centers, churches, real estate development, and even design-build construction. He was the architect selected by future Philadelphia mayor W. Wilson Goode – then head of the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA) – to design the new Norris Homes single family housing complex at 12th and Diamond Streets on land obtained from Temple University through “charrette” negotiations in 1973. He did similar developments for non-profit organizations in southwest Philadelphia and University City.
Victor’s small firm (it never had more than 5 full time employees) was integrated and employed both men and women professionals, several of which went on to start their own practices. In those days – the early 70s – it wasn’t unusual to find Len Caruth, Ted Cam, Bill Mann, Bob Saxon, or Joe Young in Vic’s office on weekends or evenings helping him meet a pending deadline. One female employee – Merle Easton – left for Harrisburg in 1972 to become the first chief architect at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. The Bryant School commission from the School District of Philadelphia was certainly the young firm’s most important to date. I would love to have been there when Vic made his presentation to the Art Commission whose membership at the time included Louis I. Kahn. According to Vic, Kahn liked the design very much. In the mid-1970s, after completing the Regent and Melville Street housing projects, Wilburn opened an office in Washington, DC, and eventually closed his Philadelphia office in the late 1970s. He went on to complete projects for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Vienna and Dun Loring Metro stations with Blauvelt Engineers), and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services).