First Black Female Architect Dead at 85

Norma Merrick Sklarek worked on Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

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Rich Schmitt

The first African-American woman to become a licensed architect passed away Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Norma Merrick Sklarek, 85, died in her home in California of heart failure. 

Sklarek, who helped produce Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, broke barriers when she became a licensed architect in New York in 1954 and in California in 1962. She also became the first elected fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1966.

"She was excellent at putting the whole package together," Marshall Purnell, a past president of the AIA, told the Los Angeles Times. 

She did not design most of the huge projects she supervised, "not because she wasn't capable," Purnell said, but because when she started out in the 1950s, "it was unheard of to have an African-American female who was registered as an architect. You didn't trot that person out in front of your clients and say, 'This is the person designing your project.' She was not allowed to express herself as a designer. But she was capable of doing anything. She was the complete architect."

Sklarek was born in Harlem in New York City in 1925 and attended Barnard College and Columbia University's School of Architecture. She was one of two women to graduate from the school in 1950. After graduating from the school, she was turned down for a job 19 straight times.

"They weren't hiring women or African Americans, and I didn't know which it was working against me," she told the Palisadian-Post in 2004.

She then found work with a leading architectural firm in the 1950s and became a founding partner of Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond, one of the largest all-women architectural firms in the country, in 1985.

She is survived by her husband, Cornelius Welch, whom she married in 1985, and three grandchildren.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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