Stories Untold: Black Modernists in Southern California

Join Modernism Week for a three-part symposium celebrating an important cultural legacy in Southern California and beyond.

Black designers, builders and developers helped shape Palm Springs and Southern California for over a century. On February 21, Modernism Week will be hosting a three-part symposium paying tribute to this important design legacy while looking toward the future.

Frances Anderton (Modernism Week Board Member, acclaimed writer and architecture expert, and organizer of this year’s symposium) recently shared with the Coachella Valley Independent:

The profession of architecture is aware that it is very under-represented by Black architects, and there are efforts under way at diversity, equity and inclusion to try to redress that. A part of that process is building up histories—untold histories. […] The process of unearthing these stories is an ongoing one, and I hope that the conversations that take place at this symposium will contribute to that process.

– Frances Anderton –

Anderton drew on the expertise of the Southern California chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to create the symposium, which is comprised of three parts:

Part One

Lawrence Crossley; Courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society

African Americans have lived for generations in the Coachella Valley, and many worked in construction. What challenges and opportunities did they find in the desert? In the opening panel, Black History of Palm Springs, Tyrone Beason, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and Jarvis Crawford and Dieter Crawford, leaders of Palm Springs Black History Committee, will share stories and reveal landmarks including the Crossley Tract, built by the New Orleans trumpeter and golf course designer Lawrence Crossley.

Part Two

A film by Studio One Eleven about the architecture of Roy Sealey in Long Beach

Paul R. Williams is famed for his civic buildings and glorious homes. What about the other notable Black architects in the midcentury? What role did Williams play in inspiring other Black designers to launch careers in LA? In Circle of Paul R. Williams, Gail Kennard (daughter of Robert Kennard, FAIA), Roland Wiley (principal, RAW International), and Nastassja Lafontant (Harvard University graduate student, former Studio One Eleven intern) will shine a light on the work of James Garrott, Ralph Vaughn, Robert Kennard, Arthur Silvers and other talents.

Part Three

How does this Black design legacy continue today? “Destination Crenshaw” is a 1.3 mile open air art gallery and park that will run alongside the light rail line in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District. Project lead Drake Dillard, of Perkins & Will, will present the project, from its roots in a disruptive planning decision by LA Metro to its flowering into a showpiece of stunning structures, pocket parks and over 100 new works of “Unapologetically Black” art.

There’s a lot of history, even in our approach to the design, in terms of how we sit down with a community of hundreds of people and talk about their likes and dislikes as a very proud, unapologetically Back community. There’s a very strong link with Africa, with slavery, and with freedoms, and we use those elements in our design to create a unifying element as you go down Destination Crenshaw.

– Drake Dillard –

Stories Untold: Black Modernists in Southern California
February 21, 2022
CAMP Theater (285 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262)
Tickets: $15

Buy tickets here

This event qualifies for 3.5 AIA/CES Learning Units (LU). Generous support provided by Room & Board.