Architect Norma Merrick Sklarek.
Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)
Beginning her career at the Columbia School of Architecture, from which she graduated in 1950, Merrick Sklarek went on to design the United States Embassy in Tokyo and the Terminal One station at Los Angeles International Airport. She was among the first Black women to become an architect, the first to be licensed in California and New York and the first to be given a fellowship by the American Institute of Architects. Her Los Angeles firm Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, was the largest firm run by women and was one of the earliest firms to be managed by a Black woman. The team worked on the Tarzana Promenade, a medical and retail complex, and the Lawndale Civic Center, among others.
In her early years in California, she worked for Gruen Associates, where she designed alongside Argentine architect Cesar Pelli and quickly ascended the ladder. There she worked on projects like the four-building complex California Market Center, West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center and San Francisco’s Fox Plaza, a 29-story office building.
San Bernardino City Hall in San Bernardino, California, built in 1973. Courtesy of Gruen Associates
The US Embassy in Tokyo, Japan built in 1976.Courtesy of Gruen Associates
The Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles was built in 1978.Courtesy of Gruen Associates
Prior to her work in Los Angeles, Merrick Sklarek, who was raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, took a job at the New York City Department of Works after being rejected by 19 firms. “They weren’t hiring women or African Americans, and I didn’t know which it was [working against me],” she is believed to have told a newspaper in 2004. She was later hired by the prestigious firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.