Melvin Edward Streeter
Contributors: Ellen Mirro, Studio TJP & Yashpriya Gupta
Melvin E. Streeter, born on March 5, 1931, in Riverside, California, was a pioneering African American architect who left an indelible mark on Seattle's architectural landscape. Raised in Riverside, he was a talented athlete at Riverside Polytechnic High School, excelling in varsity basketball. However, his true passion was architecture, leading him to decline a basketball scholarship at the University of California, Los Angeles, in favor of pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Oregon.
Upon graduating in 1955, Streeter dutifully fulfilled his United States Army ROTC commitment and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant stationed at Seattle's Fort Lawton between 1955 and 1957. Despite initial resistance in Seattle's architectural community, he eventually found opportunities to work with architects such as Paul Hayden Kirk and Fred Bassetti.
In a bold move in 1967, Streeter established his own architectural firm, named Mel Streeter Architects. This decision made him the third African American to own an architectural practice in Seattle. His inaugural project was a modest educational addition to the St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood (1969).
Streeter's journey as an African American architect, marked by his resilience in overcoming racial barriers, fueled his commitment to mentoring and inspiring African American youth to pursue careers in architecture. Notably, he designed educational buildings including the African American Academy, a significant project completed in September 2000 for the Seattle School District. This design featured a circular dogon housing the library.
His portfolio extended to numerous community-based projects, including a 65-unit housing project for Mount Zion Baptist Church (1998), the John Muir Elementary School (1991), the expansion of low-income elderly housing units for the Archdiocesan Housing Authority (1982), and the Rainier Beach High School Performing Arts Center (1998), amongst many others. Streeter also played a pivotal role in the transformation of Chevra Bikur Cholim Synagogue (104 17th Avenue S) into a multi-service community Center, now popularly known as Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (1970). It is a designated landmark in the historic Central Area of Seattle.
In 1968, Streeter collaborated with the Eugene, Oregon architectural firm of Wilmsen, Endicott & Unthank to design a bank building for Liberty Bank (2320 E Union Street, demolished). This institution held a prominent place in the cultural life of the black community in Seattle as the sole bank offering mortgages to Seattle's Black community.
In 1971, Streeter & Associates designed the Evergreen Funeral Home (526 19th Avenue E, altered) and assisted the Betsuin Housing Corporation in converting older apartment buildings into low-income housing for the elderly. During the same year, they undertook the ambitious project of designing the Federal Aviation Administration Regional Headquarters (9010 E Marginal Way S, demolished) at Boeing Field, notable for its distinctive Brutalist style. This project received the Washington Pre-cast Industry honor award.
In 1973, Streeter's firm designed a new automobile dealer showroom for Nelson Chevrolet (1521 NW 50th Street, vacant) in Ballard. They also worked on a branch office for Washington Mutual Bank (7100 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, altered) and the Totem Lake branch bank of the National Bank of Commerce (1973). That year, Streeter added a partner to his firm, Paul Dermanis, another former Bassetti employee. The firm was renamed Streeter/Dermanis and Associates.
This partnership greatly expanded their capabilities, with the firm employing up to 30 people at its Capitol Hill office at its peak. It enabled them to handle projects such as the Wallingford Post Office (1979), low-income senior housing for the Wisteria Housing Corporation (1979), and the East-Central Precinct Police Station (1986). However, controversy delayed the latter project, ultimately leading to the renovation of the Klineburger Building on Capitol Hill for the station. A notable achievement was the design of Auburn City Hall (1979), a comprehensive complex housing offices, public meeting rooms, and police and fire central operations.
Streeter's legacy extended to major projects like CenturyLink Field, where he was on the design team together with renowned architectural firms Ellerbe Becket and LMN Architects. He was selected by the Seattle Public Library to design the new Rainier Beach branch library (1981), further solidifying his contributions to the community.
Beyond his prolific architectural career, Streeter was a dedicated mentor and advocate for diversity within the architectural profession. He co-founded the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle Chapter's Diversity Roundtable and received a Community Service Award from AIA Seattle in 2004.
Outside of architecture, Streeter was actively involved in organizations such as Tabor 100, a professional black men’s organization, The Breakfast Club of Seattle, and the Kiwanis Club. He also served on the Seattle Planning Commission for over a decade.
On June 12, 2006, Melvin E. Streeter passed away at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of architectural innovation, community service, and a commitment to nurturing the next generation of architects, particularly among minority communities.
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—. “Racquets Complex Taking Shape.” October 13, 1968, p. 127.1
—. “For Central Area Office-Restaurant Complex to Rise.” June 4, 1969, p. 6.
—. “No ‘Handouts’ Needed At Central Area Project.” June 14, 1969, p. 1.
—. “Plans moving ahead on expansion of Jefferson Park Recreation Center.” October 9, 1970, p. 56.
—. “Final approval given synagogue conversion.” November 12, 1970, p. 30.
—. “Open house.” July 25, 1971, p. 45.
—. “Rehab project begins.” July 25, 1971, p. 44.
—. “F.A.A. plans $2.5 million building at Boeing Field.” June 18, 1971, p. 17.
—. “Synagogue remodeled into east-neighborhood center.” June 18, 1972, p. 14. W.D.
—. “Work begun on new F.A.A. headquarters.” September 3, 1972, p. 34.
—. “Bank in construction.” June 3, 1973, p. 65.
—. “Bank starts building.” September 9, 1973, p. 56.
—. “Mel Streeter.” December 9, 1973, p. 47.
—. “New Bank for Beacon Hill.” October 13, 1974, p. 104
—. “Domed Stadium, F.A.A building honored by precast-concrete industry.” July 4, 1976, p. 105.
—. “$4.5 million renovation set.” July 16, 1978, p. 146.
—. “Bid-opening set for North End post office.” August 26, 1979, p. 151.
—. “Residence for elderly to be built in International District.” October 14, 1979, p. 154.
—. “Station sites have different impacts.” January 13 1980, p. 122.
—. “High Point getting new playfield, community center.” March 22, 1981, p. 128.
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Yes, he was employed at their firms and later started his own practice.