Amaza Lee Meredith at work in 1958 on plans for an addition to the Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA (Virginia State University Special Collections and Archives; courtesy Getty)

The Getty Foundation announced $3.1 million for the preservation of Black modern architecture. The funds will go toward a new initiative from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a campaign launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2017. So far, the Action Fund has raised over $80 million for over 200 conservation projects.

The Getty Foundation’s grant will launch a two-year program to identify the work of Black modern architects and preserve those sites.

“We must address the invisibility of generations of Black architects whose architectural genius, creativity, and ingenuity helped shape our national understanding of modernism,” Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a statement.

The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, built by Arthur George Gaston, provided upscale lodging to Black visitors and played a critical role in the Civil Rights movement; postcard of the A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama (circa 1960-1969), from Book of letters sent to Arthur Shores, a prominent attorney and civil rights leader in Birmingham, Alabama (Vol. 2) (© Alabama Department of Archives and History; courtesy Getty)

In 2020, the Getty Research Institute and the University of Southern California School of Architecture acquired Black modern architect Paul Revere Williams‘s archive from his granddaughter. Williams was one of the most successful and well-known architects of his day — his projects included the homes of celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, and iconic Los Angeles locations like the Beverly Hills Hotel and El Mirador Hotels.

The new funding, however, will hopefully illuminate the contributions of Black architects who have been ignored by the field.

“It’s just who was writing the histories, who was defining modernism that determined who was included or excluded,” stated Mabel O. Wilson, an architecture professor and director of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies. “This program will go a long way to expand our thinking around modernism and shed light on Black architects — like Robert Taylor, Amaza Lee Meredith, Vertner Tandy — whose work shaped modern architecture in the United States but have largely been left out of the history books.”

This home was designed by Vertner Tandy, New York’s first licensed Black architect, and built between 1916 and 1918; Villa Lewaro, North Broadway, Irvington, Westchester County, NY (via Library of Congress)
Amaza Lee Meredith designed this home, Azurest South (1939), which stands on the campus of Virginia State University in Ettrick, Virginia (photo Brian D. Goldstein, 2021; courtesy Getty; CC BY NC 4.0)

Vertner Tandy, New York’s first licensed Black architect, designed a home in Westchester County, New York, in the early 20th century for America’s first Black woman millionaire Madam C.J. Walker. In Virginia, Amaza Lee Meredith designed a home for herself in 1939 on the campus of Virginia State University, where she founded and chaired the art department. Although it was not her only work, Lee’s Azurest South house is a testament to mid-20th century architectural innovation.

Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California Milton S. F. Curry stated, “The complex story of Modernism cannot be fully revealed without new research on its impacts in and on the Black communities that it has touched.”

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.