Norma Merrick Sklarek Archival Collection
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
NMAAHC.A2018.23
Creators:
Sklarek, Norma Merrick, 1926-2012
Dates:
1944-2008
Languages:
English
.
Physical Description:
4.8 Cubic feet
Repository:

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Norma Merrick Sklarek Archival Collection documents the prestigious and groundbreaking career of one of the early women architects who also broke ground for African American architects as well. The collection highlights Sklarek's journey and accomplishments as she paved the way for future women architects and architects of color. The collection is comprised of family records, resumes, business ephemera, photographs, correspondence, publications, clippings, architectural drawings, as well as her many awards and accolades.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The materials in this collection have been separated into eight series. The materials have been ordered and organized based on the content and chronology. Within each series and subseries, the folders are organized as close to the collection's original order as when it was acquired.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Norma Merrick Sklarek was a renowned architect and a woman of firsts who broke racial and gender barriers earning her place in the male-dominated world of architecture. She was the first Black woman member and esteemed fellow of the highly respected architectural professional organization, American Institute of Architects (AIA). Norma was distinguished in her career for leading challenging assignments and managing large, complex construction projects.
Norma Merrick was born April 15, 1926 to Dr. Walter Ernest Merrick, and Amelia (Amy) Willoughby in Harlem, New York City, New York. Her parents had emigrated from Trinidad, though her father was born in St. Vincent, West Indies. Norma's parents were a part of the first significant Caribbean immigration waves to the United States in the early 20th century. Arriving just a year before her birth, her parents saw possibility and education there. Her father, Walter attended Howard University and eventually became a physician. While her mother, Amy worked as a seamstress in a factory to make ends meet as Walter "wasn't much of a businessman" as described by Norma in an oral history interview. He practiced medicine in Harlem, New York. Norma stated that her father often served as a physician to African American celebrities such as Hazel Scott, Ethel Waters and Art Tatum. Walter was also a talented musician and carpenter that supported his daughter's love of art and math and encouraged her to pursue a career in architecture.
Around 1940, Norma was enrolled at the prestigious Hunter College High School for the intellectually gifted and "Ivy League-bound" young women. Excelling academically, Norma attended Barnard University, the prestigious women's college formerly administered by Columbia University. She attended Barnard initially in order to gain a year of a liberal arts education so that she could be accepted into then-known Columbia University School of Architecture. In 1947, she met and married, Dumas Flagg Ransom, law student at nearby Wagner University. She subsequently gave birth to her first son, Gregory Merrick Ransom shortly thereafter. She graduated from Columbia in 1950 with a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) degree. She was one of only two women and the only African American in her graduating class.
Despite her Columbia University pedigree, her race and gender made it predictably difficult to obtain employment. Norma easily recalls in an oral history interview later in life that she was turned down by nineteen prospective employers. It was on the twentieth interview with the Department of Public Works (DPW) that she was hired as a junior draftsperson for New York City. She passed her architecture licensing examination in 1954 becoming the first Black woman believed to be licensed to practice architecture in New York. Despite a poor recommendation from her DPW supervisor, she worked briefly at Katz, Waisman, Blumenkranz, Stein and Weber as a junior associate. She felt stifled and unchallenged and left that firm to do some rendering coloring work with notable New York architect, Bob Schwartz. In 1955, she started working at notable architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) in New York City where she was given larger-scale projects. At the same time, she taught architecture courses at New York City Community College (presently called the New York City College of Technology) located in Brooklyn, NY. She was the school's first woman faculty member. It was also during her tenure at SOM that Norma joined AIA and inadvertently became the organization's first African American woman member. She was a member of the Council for the Advancement of the Negro in Architecture, a New York-based group. During all this groundbreaking work, Norma was a twice-divorced mother of two sons with the birth of her second son, David Merrick Fairweather from her union with Benjamin Fairweather. Norma depended on the assistance of her family in raising her sons while she worked and advanced her career.
In an effort to advance her career, Norma moved to Los Angeles, California to work with architectural firm, Gruen Associates in 1960. A requisite for an architect in California, Norma became the first Black woman to be a licensed architect in the state. Gruen Associates, founded by visionary Austrian architect Victor Gruen, was notable for their pioneering work with shopping malls and multi-use buildings. At Gruen, in 1965 she earned the director of architecture position where she was responsible for hiring and overseeing multiple staff members as well as serving as project manager on several high-profile projects for the firm.
Her projects included the high-rise multi-use building California Mart (1963), now known as California Market Center; skyscraper Fox Plaza (1966) in San Francisco and some of Norma's most notable work for Gruen, The Pacific Design Center (1975), a multi-use facility utilized by the California's bustling apparel and fashion industry. Norma's contributary design is affectionately known by California's locals as the "Blue Whale." Norma worked on the latter project with Gruen's lead architect at the time, Cesar Pelli, known for some of the world's tallest buildings, most notably World Finance Center (Brookfield Place) in New York City. Pelli also shared his credit with Norma for her exemplary contribution to the renovation and redesign of the San Bernardino City Hall (1972) in California as well as their work on the U.S. Embassy (1976) in Tokyo, Japan. While at Gruen, Norma married Rolf Sklarek, a fellow architect at the firm. She also taught architecture courses at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC). At UCLA, she was the first African American member of the faculty.
In 1980, she was finally recognized for all of her trailblazing and innovative work, when she became the first African American woman elected to the AIA College of Fellows. The highest honor within the architecture profession. This prestigious award gave her assurance that she could take her career to another level. She departed Gruen for Welton Becket & Associates, a prominent California firm renowned for iconic music and cultural centers, including the iconic Capitol Records building in Los Angeles. Norma was appointed as the vice president of the firm and lead project manager on one of her most notable works, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport. She was recognized for the timely completion of the project as preparation for the influx of travelers to Los Angeles the for the 1984 Olympic Games. Norma also suffered the loss of her husband, Rolf Sklarek, the same year.
It was her work from the Los Angeles Airport project that empowered Norma to break yet another barrier. 1985 proved to be significant year as she became first African American woman to found and co-own a woman-owned architectural firm. Norma collaborated with fellow veteran architects Margot Siegal and Katherine Diamond to create Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond (SSD). SSD was one of the largest woman-owned architecture firms at the time. Their largest project was the Tarzana Promenade, a 90,000 sq. ft. medical and retail center, and the remodel and renovation of the Lawndale Civic Center; both located in California. Norma also designed work for the proposed Marva Collins Preparatory School in Compton, CA. The school was named after seminal educator, Marva Collins that had revolutionized education for low-income students in a crime-ridden area in Chicago, Ill. The hope was the replicate Collins' important work for children in Compton.
Being a new firm amidst the prevalence of racism and sexism within the profession left SSD at a disadvantage. Their projects were mainly residential and smaller commercial projects that didn't bring the income and accompanying challenges like larger scaled projects. Sklarek left SSD in 1989 for Jerde Partnership, an established innovator in the design and construction of shopping malls around the world. Norma was hired as the principal on the project management for the design and construction of the Mall of America. Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, it is considered to be the largest shopping mall in United States.
In 1992, Norma retired from the profession but did not resign herself to stop working. Norma became an active advocate in broadening the profession to include more women and people of color. She focused her work on teaching, lecturing, and mentoring. Over the years, she served as faculty and lecturer at several universities including UCLA, USC, University of Iowa, Kansas State University, California Polytechnic as well as her alma mater Columbia University. In an effort to inspire Black architects, Norma regularly lectured at HBCUs including Howard University, Hampton University, Tuskegee University, and Southern University.
Sklarek's work was recorded and recognized by the black press and publishers, such as her being included in Ebony magazine as early as 1958, in their article on "Successful Young Architects." In 2008, the AIA awarded her with the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award that recognizes architects who represented the profession's responsibility to address social issues. She also served on multiple professional boards and committees, such as the California Architects Board, Professional Qualifications Committee, California State Board of Architectural Examiners, the AIA National Ethics Council and many more.
On February 6, 2012, Sklarek died in the Pacific Palisades, California at the age of 85. She was survived by her husband Cornelius Welch, whom she married in 1985; her son, David Merrick Fairweather, stepdaughter Susan Welch as well as three grandchildren. She was predeceased by her son Gregory Merrick Ransom in 2006.
Historical Timeline
1926
Norma Merrick was born to Amy Willoughby and Walter Merrick in Harlem, New York.
1944
Graduated from Hunter College High School, New York, NY
1944-1945
Attended Barnard College, New York, NY
1945-1950
Attended Columbia University in New York City earning a bachelor's degree in architecture (B.Arch.).
1947
Married Dumas Flagg Ransom and had son, Gregory Merrick Ransom. They later divorced.
1950
Married Elwyn (Benjamin) Fairweather and had son, David Merrick Fairweather. They later divorced.
1950-1955
Worked at the Department of Public Works, New York, NY
1954
Licensed in the state of New York; believed to be the first black woman architect licensed in New York
1959
First African American woman member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
1955-1960
Worked at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in New York, NY
1957-1960
Architecture faculty member at New York City Community College, Brooklyn, NY
1960
Married Francis "Harry" Pena in New York, NY.
Moved to California and began working at Gruen Associates and served as the Director of Architecture until 1980.
1962
First African American woman architect licensed in California
1963
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of the California Mart, Los Angeles, CA.
1966
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction Fox Plaza in San Francisco, CA.
1967
Sklarek divorced Pena and married Rolf Sklarek, a fellow architect at Gruen Associates.
1970
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of the Park Center Commercial Complex in San Jose, CA .
1972-1973
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of the San Bernardino, City Hall in San Bernardino, CA.
1973
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of Commons-Courthouse Center in Columbus, IN.
1973-1978
Served as faculty member in the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning
1976
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of the U. S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.
1978
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, CA.
1980
First African American woman fellow of the AIA
1980-1985
Worked as VP and project manager at Welton Becket & Associates in Santa Monica, CA
1984
Sklarek working with Welton Becket Associates coordinated the design and construction of Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA.
Rolf Sklarek died in February.
1985
Sklarek along with Margot Siegal and Katherine Diamond formed their own firm, Siegel- Sklarek-Diamond.
Sklarek married Dr. Cornelius Welch.
1989
Left the Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond and joined The Jerde Partnership, in Venice, CA, as the principal project manager.
1989-1992
Sklarek coordinated the design and construction of the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN.
1992
Retired from The Jerde Partnership
2003-2007
Served as commissioner on the California State Board of Architectural Examiners
2008
Awarded American Institute of Architects' Whitney M. Young Jr. Award
2012
Norma Merrick Sklarek died in the Pacific Palisades, California at the age of 85.

Administration
Processing Information
Collection processed, arranged, and described by Ja-Zette Marshburn and Alana Donocoff in 2020 and 2021.
Author
Ja-Zette Marshburn and Alana Donocoff
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of David Merrick Fairweather and Yvonne Goff

Bibliography
Bibliography
"A Tribute to Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA." Pylon. March/April 2020. (accessed June 2021). https://aiabrooklyn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/AIA-Pylon-2020MarApr.pdf.
Black, Angela. ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. "Sklarek, Norma Merrick." African American National Biography. Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0001/e3731.
Bailey, Jeff. "Legacy: A Pioneering African-American Architect" INC.. May 1, 2012. (accessed December 2020). https://www.inc.com/magazine/201205/jeff-bailey/norma-merrick-sklarek-architect-legacy.html.
Brooks, Nancy Rivera. "Women Architects Join to Build Career." Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1986. (accessed December 2020).
Ehrhart-Morrison, Dorothy. No Mountain High Enough: Secrets of Successful African American Women. Berkeley, Calif.: Conari, 1997.
"Fairer, but certainly able." Washington Informer. Feb. 2014. (accessed November 10, 2020). https://www-proquest-com.smithsonian.idm.oclc.org/docview/1500755151?accountid=46638.
"First African American woman architect passes." New York Beacon . Feb. 2012. (accessed November 10, 2020). https://www-proquest-com.smithsonian.idm.oclc.org/docview/1013843156?accountid=46638 .
Henderson, Wesley H, Interviewer. "African-American Architects of Los Angeles: Norma Merrick Sklarek" (Oral History Program at UCLA), 1994. Online: https://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/catalog/21198-zz0008zn3x.
IAWA Small Collections, Ms2009-054 - Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va. http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?query=sklarek&docId=vt%2Fviblbv00507.xml&chunk.id=#2.
Lanker, Brian. (1989). I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang.
Lewis, Anna M. Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014.
Morton, Patricia. "Norma Merrick Sklarek: April 15, 1926-February 6, 2012." Forbes.. Beverly Willis Architectural Foundation. (accessed November 2020). https://pioneeringwomen.bwaf.org/norma-merrick-sklarek/.
"Norma Sklarek: National Visionary. Forbes. National Visionary Leadership Project. Oral History Archive. (accessed December 2020). http://www.visionaryproject.org/sklareknorma/.
Sellers, Libby. (2017). Forbes. Women Design. London: Francis Lincoln Limited Publishers.
Sklarek, Norma Merrick, Biographical Material; Ms88-049; Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Travis, Jack. (1991). Forbes. African American Architects in Current Practice. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Wilkinson, Michelle Joan. "Norma Merrick Sklarek: Redefining Public." Women in Design and Architecture at Princeton University School of Architecture, April 24, 2019, Princeton, New Jersey. https://vimeo.com/332318281.
Williams, Nancy Anita. "Howard Conference A Rallying for Black Female Architects." Forbes. The Washington Post. Dec. 15, 1983. (accessed November 2020). https://www-proquest-com.smithsonian.idm.oclc.org/docview/147535498?accountid=46638.
Woo, Elaine. "Pioneering African American Architect Was 85" (obituary) Pioneering Woman of American Architecture. Los Angeles Times. (accessed November 2020). http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/10/local/la-me-norma-sklarek-20120210.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
The NMAAHC Archives can provide reproductions of some materials for research and educational use. Copyright and right to publicity restrictions apply and limit reproduction for other purposes.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Access to collection materials requires an appointment.
Preferred Citation
Norma Merrick Sklarek Archival Collection, 1944-2008. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Architecture Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Design Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Harlem (New York, N.Y.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Los Angeles (Calif.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Japan -- Tokyo Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Entrepreneurship Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African diaspora Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Education Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gender Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Identity Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Institute of Architects Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pelli, Cesar Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gruen, Victor, 1903-1980 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gruen Associates Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Siegel, Margot Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Schwartz, Robert (Robert E.) Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diamond, Katherine Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sklarek, Rolf Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hutchinson, Louise Daniel Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Davis, Carolyn Armenta, 1944- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Grant, Bradford C. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Williams, Paul R., 1894-1980 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Harney, Henrietta Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Washington, Roberta Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Covington, Garnett K. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Donaphin, Alexa Barnes Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tyler, Kathryn B. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sutton, Sharon E., 1941- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Love-Stanley, Ivenue Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
LeGendre, Laurette Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hermanuz, Ghislaine Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mills, Marlene E. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Moseley-Olaleye, Joyce Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hinton-Lee, W. Chris Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
deJongh, Donna Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C. 20004
NMAAHC-ArchivalCollection@si.edu
https://nmaahc.si.edu