Merriwether, C. Raymond
(1924 – 2011)
Colie Raymond (Ray) Merriwether, a prominent Black Seattle architect, real estate developer, and newspaper owner, was born in Taylor, Texas on June 19, 1924. After graduation from high school he enrolled at Howard University. While there he worked as a campus barber and graduated from the School of Engineering in 1947.
Newly married, he and his wife, Marion, looked for a city with business opportunities for Black residents. Together they decided on Seattle and Merriwether began his career as a Structural Plan Examiner for the City of Seattle’s Building Department. At the time he was the third Black engineer to work in Seattle. In addition to his city position, the ambitious young Merriwether became a developer and built several apartments in the Central Area. He built his first apartment building, the 18-unit Chrystal Arms (1950, with architect W.G. Brust) at the age of 25. This was followed by the 18-unit Chrystal Plaza (1951) across the street. Both buildings were named for his daughter. These were soon followed by three more apartment buildings, all of which catered to minority groups.
With his profits, in 1952 Merriwether bought The Pacific Leader, a newspaper serving the Black community. As editor of the paper he teamed with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attorney Phillip Burton, and began to challenge a variety of racially discriminatory practices in the city. Among their successes was a campaign to get local banks to hire the city’s first Black bank teller. They also pressured the Tradewell chain of grocery stores to hire Black clerks and persuaded the owners of a central Seattle office building to rent to Black professionals.
To further his career, Merriwether returned to school. He moved the family to Pullman where he enrolled at Washington State University earning a second Bachelor’s degree in 1960, this time in architecture. He then decided to complete a Master’s degree in Urban Planning at the University of Washington.
After becoming a registered architect, as well as a registered civil and structural engineer, Merriwether formed a partnership with architect Raymond Peck. Together the Peck & Merriwether firm completed a broad range of designs that included custom homes, office buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, apartments, and warehouses.
Reportedly, they designed and built projects that contained over 260 apartment units in Seattle and Everett. Several of the apartment buildings were named in honor of Black personalities including: the Carver House, Bethune Manor, Langston House, Charles Drew and Kings Court. They were also involved in several convalescent homes each named after Merriwether —Merri-Haven, Merri-Vista (1964), Merri-Crest in Everett (1964), and Merri-Acre.
A stalwart advocate of the Central Area of Seattle, Merriwether pushed for urban renewal and assistance for Black business owners. He served on the Seattle Small Business Advisory Board, was a trustee of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and became chairman of Emerald City Bank (Seattle’s first minority-controlled bank, originally called Liberty Bank).
In 1971, Merriwether bought out Peck’s interest in the firm and changed the name to Ray Merriwether & Associates, headquartered in Bellevue. After retiring, Merriwether pursued his hobbies of golf, bridge and traveling. He died in Seattle on May 23, 2011 at the age of 87. His son Clyde also became an architect.
– Michael C. Houser