Seattle architect Leon Bridges holds the distinction of opening the second African American owned architectural firm in Seattle, established in 1964.
Bridges was born on August 18, 1932 in East Los Angeles, California. At an early age Bridges knew he wanted to pursue a career in architecture and while a student at Adams Junior High School, he met his mentor, famed African American architect, Paul Williams. Bridges earned his high school diploma from Dorsey High School in 1950.
After graduation Bridges attended classes at East Los Angeles Junior College, Los Angeles City College and UCLA. During his time in California he appeared as an extra in several movies and even toured with the Griffith Park Greek Theatre Light Opera Company (1950-1952). His studies however where cut short when he was drafted into the Army in 1952. While serving as a soldier stationed in Japan, he continued to study architecture and upon his return to the states in 1955, Bridges returned to school, this time to Seattle, where he earned a bachelorís of architecture from the University of Washington in 1959.
Practical hands-on experience was gained while working for California architect Alan Morris in the summer of 1957. Upon graduation, Bridge took a job with the architectural firm of Gotteland & Koczarski (1961-1963). While there he acquired his architectural license in 1961.
With valuable experience at hand, Bridges opened his own architecture firm in Seattle in 1964, sharing office space with architect Benjamin Woo. His first project was designing the East Madison Branch of the YMCA (1964-1965, with Benjamin Woo). In 1966, he formed a successful partnership with Edward Burke. During their six-year partnership, the firmís work consisted mainly of housing, planning studies and remodels. In 1969, Alvin C. Williams was made a partner in the firm, but the name was not changed. By 1970, the firm had grown to twenty employees and a branch office was opened in Baltimore, Maryland.
Projects include several low-income housing projects in Seattle, Tacoma and Baltimore, as well as planning studies in Baltimore and Portland. Known projects in Seattle include 20911 30th Ave Apartment (1966); the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church (1967); Fire Station No. 23 remodel (1967); Leschi School Park (1967); the Alder House Senior Living (1968); a Seattle Times Home-of-the-Month dwelling at 3411 E. Terrace; a 3,000 sq. ft. addition to the Seattle Art Museum; the Dr. Donald Weber House (1969) in Sumner; the Americare Extended-Care Nursing facility (1970) in Lacey; the King County Library Ė Skyway Branch (1970); a remodel of Herzel School for Odessa Brown Childrenís Clinic (1970); and the Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Co Office (1972). His comprehensive plan for the Yesler-Atlantic urban renewal area (1967) received high praise and a significant amount of press.
With the business taking off in Maryland, Bridges and Burke parted ways in 1972. Bridges moved to Baltimore and established his own firm becoming the first registered African American architect in Maryland.
Over the course of his career Bridges has been actively involved in a variety of professional organizations. This included serving as National AIA Director (1971); co-founder of the AIA/Ford Minority Scholarship fund (1976), and was a member of the counsel of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), for which he has served in every national office, including president. Outside of the architectural field, Bridges served as a board member of the Seattle Urban League (1963-1969); Chairman of the King County Planning Commission (1966-1969); committee member of the Forward Thrust Initiative (1968-1969); board member for the Planned Parenthood World Population (1968); and President of the Leschi Improvement Club.
In 1986 he became a member of the College of Fellows, AIA. That same year he earned his MBA from Loyola College of Maryland.
Over the course of his career Bridges has been the recipient of more than twenty national, regional and local awards for design excellence including the restoration of Baltimoreís Penn Station and Baltimore City College High School.
Currently, Bridges is a partner in The Obsidian Group, an architectural, design and planning firm with offices in Baltimore, New York and North Carolina. He is also very active as a mentor in the NAACPís ACT-SO national mentoring program.
-Michael C. Houser