June 19, 1897 – Birth of African American Architect & Civil Rights Activist James Homer Garrott

James Homer Garrott, born on this day in history in Montgomery, Alabama, was an African-American architect active in the Los Angeles area in the mid-20th century who designed more than 200 buildings. Described as a “pivotal black Avant garde modernist of the 1940s era,” he was the second African-American admitted to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Los Angeles.

Garrott’s father James Henry Garrott was a builder who contributed to the construction of the buildings at Tuskegee Institute. In 1903 Garrott’s family moved to Los Angeles, where Garrott attended Los Angeles Polytechnic High School. Six years after graduating from high school, Garrott found a job with Pasadena architect George P. Telling.

James H. Garrott, architect, circa 1915

In 1928 Garrott took the California State architect exam and after passing it, he opened his first office.  Soon after, Garrott received one of his earliest architectural contracts, the African American-owned Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company building. Seven years after Garrott’s death in 1998, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1939 Garrott partnered with another architect, Gregory Ain, to open a new office.  [Ain was a left-leaning white architect who had the misfortune to attract the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. The New York Times wrote of Ain: “His left-leaning politics made him the object of decades-long F.B.I. surveillance and McCarthy-era witch hunts that took their toll on his career and legacy.”]

In 1946 Garrott was the second African American accepted as a member of the  American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Los Angeles.

James Homer Garrott, 1948

By 1954 Garrott had designed and built at least 750 homes in four Los Angeles housing projects.

Blackpast.org reports that Garrott was also a civil rights activist.  Through this work he became close friends with liberal Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. This relationship with Hahn led to Garrott receiving nine architectural commissions in various parts of the county. In 1960 he designed the Westchester Municipal Building for the City of Los Angeles.

Westchester Municipal Building, designed by James Garrott

Although Garrott was most active in the 1950s, he continued to design buildings throughout the Los Angeles area up until 1970. One of his last commissions was the Public Library for the City of Carson in 1968.

In 1974 Garrott received emeritus status from the American Institute of Architects and in 1975 he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Minority Architects and Planners of Los Angeles.

Garrott died on June 9, 1991, in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

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