Benjamin F. McAdoo, Jr.

McAdoo, Benjamin F. Jr.

(1920 – 1981)

Benjamin Franklin McAdoo, Jr. holds the distinction of being the first Black American architect to maintain a practice in Washington State. Over the course of his career, he was a local civic leader and national advocate for the advancement of low-cost housing solutions. During the three decades of his prolific and diverse architectural career, McAdoo designed numerous churches, single and multifamily dwellings, and commercial and institutional works. Many of his Seattle area residential designs achieved acclaim and were featured in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and Sunset.

Born in Pasadena, California on October 29, 1920, McAdoo’s formal architectural education began at Pasadena City College and then the University of Southern California. For reasons unknown he transferred to the University of Washington where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture in 1946.

Upon graduation, he decided to open up his own firm. His early projects were small in scale and included many community churches, building renovations, and private residences. After several of his innovative designs were published, other commissions followed.

Margery Phillips, an architectural writer for the Seattle Times, helped to publicize McAdoo’s career, choosing periodically to highlight his houses for her column. In 1954, McAdoo was one of the first group of architects recognized for outstanding residential work in the Seattle Times/AIA “Home-of-the-Month” feature published in the Seattle Times. He won the Home of the Year in 1956. Between 1954 and 1960 his homes were featured seven times.  His style, a synthesis of modernism and regionalism, proved popular in Seattle.

Notable residential designs include the John P. Browning House (1947) in Seattle, the Donald Hochberg residence (1954) on Mercer Island, the Kenneth & Kimi Ota House (1956, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month) in Seattle, and the George Hage House (1956, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Year) in Seattle. McAdoo’s personal residence in Bothell (1958) is a premier example of his ideal residential formula.

His interest in low cost housing led to an administrative position with the United States Agency on International Development (AID) in Jamaica (1961 – 1962). While there, McAdoo promoted a modular house design which could be easily assembled by unskilled workers. Reportedly the successful design was widely manufactured across Jamaica for several years.

Upon returning to the United States in the early 1960s, McAdoo took a job in Washington, D.C., where he helped to set up the Latin American Division of the AID.  He then transferred to the General Services Administration’s Public Building Services, but kept a foothold back in Seattle.  With architect Robert K. L. Wong he designed the Four Seas Restaurant in Seattle during this time (1962).

McAdoo returned to Seattle in 1964 and continued working with the General Services Administration in their Auburn office. Concurrently, he maintained a private office in Seattle, eventually resuming a full-time practice in the late 1960s. Later work included many public, civic, and educational buildings. Projects include the Southcenter Branch of the King County Central Blood Bank (1970), the University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Center (1972), the Queen Anne Swimming Pool (1978), and Seattle Fire Station No. 29 (1972).

McAdoo took an active role in Seattle’s black community. In 1964 he served as president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP, and began broadcasting a weekly radio show focused on social issues. He maintained this post for four years. McAdoo worked steadily until his death on June 18, 1981.

McAdoo worked steadily until his death on June 18, 1981.

– Michael C Houser

Learn about The Benjamin McAdoo Research Collective.

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