Norma Merrick Sklarek, The Country’s First African American Female Licensed Architect Who Designed LAX

Written by Rewindingblack

On April 15th, 1928 the woman who would be known as the first African American female architect was born in Harlem.  Her name was Norma Merrick Sklarek. Her father was Dr. Walter Ernest Merrick who was a physician, and her mother was Amy Willoughby who worked as a seamstress.  Both of her parents were Trinidadian.

Norma attended and graduated from Hunter High School. She then went on to attend to attend Columbia University’s Banard College. From there she went on to Columbia University’s School of Architecture.  In 1950, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Despite her esteemed educational track record, she was unable to find work in her field after graduating from college.  However she went on to work for the New York Department of Public Works.

In 1954 she decided to take the challenging four day architecture licensure exam for the State of New York.  She passed the exam, and became the first African American woman to become a licensed architect in the United States. Once she became licensed, she started working with the architectural firm: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. She worked with the firm for five years as well as served on the New York City College architecture faculty.

Beginning in 1960, Norma was director of architecture for Greun Associates in Los Angeles. Norma then went on to become a licensed architect in California in 1962. Again she was the first African American to become a licensed architecture in the state of California.  In 1967, she married fellow architect Rolf Sklarek.  In 1980, she left her position with Greun Associates.

Norma went on to become a master architect. Her most notable designs were the $50 million dollar domestic terminal at LAX, The US Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, and the Wilshire La Brea Train Terminal Station to name a few. She was also the only African American woman to be inducted into the American Institute of Architecture College of Fellows.

Norma Merrick Slarek died from heart failure in 2012.

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