(1932 – )
Seattle architect Leon Bridges holds the distinction of opening the second African American owned architectural firm in Seattle, which he established in 1964.
Bridges was born on August 18, 1932 in East Los Angeles, California. He realized at an early age that 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.
Bridges attended classes at East Los Angeles Junior College, Los Angeles City College and UCLA. During this period, he appeared as an extra in several movies and even toured with the Griffith Park Greek Theatre Light Opera Company in 1950-1952. He was drafted into the Army in 1952, and while stationed in Japan, he continued to study architecture. Upon returning to states in 1955, Bridges attended the University of Washington where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture in 1959. Upon graduation, Bridge took a job with the architectural firm of Gotteland & Koczarski in 1961-1963. While there he acquired his architectural license in 1961.
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 YMCA (1964-1965), with Woo. In 1966, he formed a successful partnership with architect Edward Burke. During their six-year partnership, Bridges/Burke’s 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 20 employees and had opened a branch office in Baltimore, Maryland. Its projects include several low-income housing projects in Seattle, Tacoma, and Baltimore, as well as numerous planning studies. Known projects in Seattle include 20911 30th Ave Apartment (1966); Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church (1967); Fire Station No. 23 remodel (1967); Leschi School Park (1967); Alder House Senior Living (1968); the Judge Clarence Smith House (1968, a Seattle Times Home-of-the-Month residence); the Dr. Donald Weber House in Sumner (1969); the Americare Extended-Care Nursing facility in Lacey (1970); the King County Library – Skyway Branch (1970); remodel of Herzel School for Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (1970); and the Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company Office (1972). Bridges also created a comprehensive plan for the Yesler-Atlantic Urban Renewal Area (1967).
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 was actively involved in a variety of professional and civil rights organizations. This included serving as National AIA Director (1971); co-founder of the AIA/Ford Minority Scholarship fund (1976), and the counsel of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), for which he has served in every national office, including president. He is also very active as a mentor in the NAACP’s ACT-SO national mentoring program, and 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 AIA 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 two dozen national, regional, and local awards for design excellence including the restoration of Baltimore’s Penn Station and Baltimore City College High School. Currently, he is a partner in The Obsidian Group, an architectural, design and planning firm in North Carolina.
– Michael C Houser