Oral Histories

Interview of Robert A. Kennard

African American architect who designed schools and public buildings, including Carson City Hall and Community Center, Van Nuys State Office Building, and LAX Parking Structures 1, 3, and 4. Championed minorities in the architectural profession, creating mentorship programs for schools in the Los Angeles area and forming the Minority Architecture and Planning organization, a precursor of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
Subtitle:
African-American Architects of Los Angeles: Robert A. Kennard
Series:
African American Architects of Los Angeles
Topic:
African American History
Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Design
Biographical Note:
African American architect who designed schools and public buildings, including Carson City Hall and Community Center, Van Nuys State Office Building, and LAX Parking Structures 1, 3, and 4. Championed minorities in the architectural profession, creating mentorship programs for schools in the Los Angeles area and forming the Minority Architecture and Planning organization, a precursor of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
Interviewer:
Henderson, Wesley H.
Interviewee:
Kennard, Robert A.
Persons Present:
Tape I: Kennard, Henderson, and Kennard's daughter, Gail Kennard Madyun; Tapes II-XII: Kennard and Henderson.
Place Conducted:
Kennard's office in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
This interview was conducted by Wesley H. Henderson. Henderson holds a Bachelor of Science in Art and Design and a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles.Henderson prepared for the interview by having a pre-interview with Kennard, interviewing his associates, and relying on the background research for his UCLA doctoral dissertation, "Two Case Studies of African American Architects' Career in Los Angeles, 1890-1945: Paul R. Williams, FAIA, and James H. Garrott, AIA.
Processing of Interview:
Alex Cline, editor, edited the interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed. Kennard reviewed the transcript. He verified proper names and made minor corrections and additions. Cline prepared the table of contents. Rebecca Stone, editorial assistant, assembled the biographical summary and interview history. Lisa Magee, editorial assistant, compiled the index.
Length:
9 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series African American Architects of Los Angeles document the work of selected African American architects who have enhanced the built environment, principally in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Influenced by earlier pioneers such as Paul R. Williams, these individuals overcame bias and discrimination to create structures which have become emblematic of the uniqueness of local architecture.
Family background--Family moves to Los Angeles--Grandfather, Daniel Bryan--Growing up in Monrovia, California, and encounters with racism--Trips into Los Angeles--School segregation in Monrovia--Memorable school-teachers--Childhood friends Kennard remained in contact with.
Introduced to architecture through a mechanical drafting class--"Mesmerized" by Paul R. Williams--Studies architecture at Pasadena Junior College--William J. Stone--Other notable architects who attended Pasadena Junior College--Difficulty in securing a job due to race--Hired by H. Curtis Chambers, Pasadena architect--Does additional work for Theo Pletsch--Loses job due to World War II--Begins working for the post office--Clyde Grimes Sr.--Drafted into United States Army--Rapid rise in rank--Lessons in command.
An encounter with racism while stationed in the South--Babyface Harris--Partying in New York before being sent overseas.
Positive aspects of military experience--Stationed in southern England--Befriending Ted Simpson in the village pub--Absorbing culture during trips to London--Kennard's company not sent to D day invasion--Offered a field commission after being stationed in France--Field commission in Darmstadt, Germany--Hostility toward Americans in Le Havre, France--Travels to Paris and encounters with the French people--Racist memorandum to black soldiers at the time of the Battle of the Bulge.
Returning to work for Chambers after leaving the army in 1946--Attending University of Southern California under the GI Bill--Doing volunteer work for the Citizens Housing Council (CHC)--Hired by Robert E. Alexander--Work on Baldwin Hills Elementary School--Alexander joins with Richard J. Neutra on the Chavez Ravine project--Neutra's architectural style--Joining the National Guard leads to being drafted during the Korean War.
Opposes segregation during new army assignment--Letter-writing to the Council on Minority Affairs--Transfers due to Kennard's "subversive" actions--Under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
More on Neutra's work--Richard Sommers--Los Angeles City Department of Parks and Recreation job after the Korean War--Employment at Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall (DMJM)--Presentation for one of DMJM's projects--Designs Sommers's home in Beverly Hills--Political tensions at DMJM--Zelma and Michael Wilson.
Kennard's decision to leave DMJM--Takes job at Gruen and Associates--Problems at Gruen--Works independently in office shared with E. Richard Lind--Money dwindles and Lind departs--Works for Koebig and Koebig--Opens own office near home--A surge of homebuilding and remodeling jobs--Successful job on the Hidden Trails Youth Camp in the Malibu mountains.
Personal connections lead to Willowbrook School District work--Building a business--Business suffers in 1964--Forming Kennard, Silvers, and Williams and pushing for a Los Angeles Unified School District project--Now Kennard and Silvers, the firm is commissioned to do Hyde Park Elementary School--Opening an office in Oakland, California--Business booms--Effort to secure More Oakland Residential Housing, Inc. (MORH) project necessitates trip to Boston to bargain with A. Carl Koch.
Getting the MORH project away from Koch--Description of the MORH project--Closes the Oakland office in 1978.
Architects who hired blacks during Kennard's post college days--Dispelling racist stereotypes--Media portrayal of minorities and women--Growing up attending the Episcopal Church and coping with racism--Involvement in the Unitarian Church--Other black architects in Los Angeles--Carey K. Jenkins Sr. offers to merge his firm with Kennard's--Difficulty in finding individuals truly qualified to be partners.
Shirley Nakamoto-Downs--Personal problems lead to Arthur H. Silvers's departure from the firm--Ronald J. Delahousie and Jeffrey M. Gault become partners in the firm--Delahousie and Gault leave in the late 1970s--Nakamoto-Downs becomes a partner--Nakamoto-Downs leaves in 1985--The roller coaster of entrepreneurship--The Three Worlds of Los Angeles architectural exhibition--More about Silvers and his approach to design--Admiration for Eero Saarinen's office's work--Kennard's home.
Projects Kennard is pleased with--Parking garages at Los Angeles International Airport--Carson Civic Center--Other satisfying projects--Los Angeles Unified School District projects in progress--Designers who have worked with Kennard--Other current projects--The high cost of marketing to get jobs--Difficulty of being a small firm--Attempt at a joint venture for Euro Disney fails--Encourages minority architects to enter the workplace--White attitudes toward minorities in America.
A house Kennard was not pleased with--Problems of school design during Los Angeles Unified School District's period of rigid standards--The importance of siting--I. M. Pei--More buildings and landscaping that worked well--Temple Akiba--Oak Center Towers--More on Carson Civic Center--Contributions to political and social causes--Helping minority students of architecture.
The Central City Federation and its work--Professional benefits of being socially concerned.