In addition to highlighting the works of Edward Loewenstein, we hope to share information on African-American architects who were also responsible for introducing modernist design to Greensboro, particularly in East Greensboro. One of these architects, Willie Edward Jenkins, worked at Loewenstein’s architectural firm from 1949 to 1961, where he rose up the ranks from draftsman to associate architect all within five years of his college graduation.
Loewenstein-Atkinson Architects: Jenkins standing in the middle
Jenkins received a B.S. in Architectural Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University, graduating the year that fellow architect William Streat joined the faculty, 1949. He served in the Army during World War II before enrolling at A&T. After graduation, Jenkins went to work for Edward Loewenstein at his firm Loewenstein-Atkinson Architects, but only after Loewenstein’s one African American employee William Gupple suggested Jenkins for the job, as he could not find one elsewhere. Jenkins did well at the firm, and in 1953 he became North Carolina’s third officially registered black architect, after Gaston Alonzo Edwards and William Streat. By 1962 Jenkins had established his own independent firm, the first in the state run by a registered black architect.
James B. Dudley High School Gymnasium, 1959
St. James Presbyterian Church, 1959
Jenkins embraced modernism with gusto from the beginning of his career, mostly in the form of public buildings in east Greensboro. In turn, he focused on architecture that benefitted the black community. Examples from his time at Loewenstein’s firm include the highly praised 1959 gymnasium for Dudley High School, at the time Greensboro’s only high school for African Americans, as well as the 1959 building for St. James Presbyterian Church. This was another of Loewenstein’s projects centered in the black community for which Jenkins served as head architect, and he was also a church member. Later commissions, completed while leading his own firm, include the c. 1959 J. Kenneth Lee residence, designed for a prominent local civil rights attorney and businessman, the Cumberland Office Building (1965), Smith’s Funeral Service (1967), St. Matthews United Methodist Church (1970), and Greensboro National Bank (1974). In these buildings Jenkins utilized modern technological developments such as pre-cast panels on the office building and the steel-framed roof of St. Matthews Church. This imaginative roofline embraced the expressionist side of modernism, while Jenkins also turned to the more restrained, rationalist design tendencies of earlier modernism in buildings like the cuboid Greensboro National Bank. Much like Loewenstien, Jenkins designed buildings that were modernist yet still well suited to North Carolina in terms of their modest dimensions, orientation to the landscape, and familiar local materials, namely brick.
J. Kenneth Lee Residence, c. 1959
Drawing of St. Matthews United Methodist Church, 1970