Buffalo Architects - Index

John E. Brent in Buffalo, NY

See also:
Cynthia Van Ness, In Search of Buffalo's First Professional African-American Architect: Some Preliminary Findings  History, illustrations (online March 2016)
Excerpt from
Burchfield Penney Art Center:
"Through These Gates: Buffalo's First African American Architect, John E. Brent"

(online March 2016)


Recent research has uncovered significant contributions to architectural design, landscape architecture, and draftsmanship made by John Edmonston Brent (1889-1962) in the city of Buffalo and surrounding counties of Western New York.

His grandfather, John Brent, was born a slave, but later purchased his freedom and that of his wife. His father, Calvin Thomas Stowe Brent, was an accomplished architect in Washington, DC, “one of the most sophisticated cities of Black culture,” according to architect Robert Traynham Coles, who wrote a biographical sketch about John E. Brent for the African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, published in 2004.

Named after his grandfather, Brent was born in our national Capitol, educated at the Tuskegee Institute, and received a full scholarship at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry, graduating in 1912.

He came immediately to Buffalo, New York and started employment with Max G. Beirel; thus becoming the first African American architect in the city. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects. In addition to his architectural engineering and design accomplishments, Brent became the first president of the Buffalo Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on November 30, 1914.

Between 1912 and 1926, Brent worked with several architectural firms, including Max G. Beirel, Henry Osgood Holland; Waterbury & Mann; Julius C. Schultz; North and Shelgren, and Oakley & Schallmo. In 1926, he opened his own home office at 99 Lonsdale Avenue in Hamlin Park in Buffalo and managed many private commissions.

Among Brent’s most significant architectural designs is the Michigan Avenue Branch Y.M.C.A. (1928), which was his first large commission. It was initially funded by Julius Rosenwald, who was the founder of Sears & Roebuck in Chicago. Subsequent funders included Mrs. Anna McDougall, who started a capital campaign endowment, and Mr. and Mrs. George B. Mathews, whose magnanimous endowment gift of $100,000 was known as the Booker T. Washington Foundation. Brent was the second African American in the United States to design a building for the Young Men’s Christian Association. Unfortunately it was demolished in 1977.

From 1931 to 1934 Brent worked for the U. S. Department of the Interior on the Founders Library and other buildings at Howard University in Washington, DC. During the Great Depression through the 1950s, the Buffalo Parks Department employed him, and documents show his involvement with designs of Front Park, the Buffalo Zoological Gardens, and other public spaces.

In 1958, Brent was recognized as “The Man of the Year” by the editor and publishers of the Negro Directory of the Niagara Frontier. (“The Woman of the Year” was Mrs. Cora P. Maloney, “the first woman in the city of Buffalo to become Councilman for the Masten District. They both were lauded as “Outstanding Citizens of the Community” and pictured on the cover of the publication.)

Brent posthumously received recognition in Buffalo for the gates and landscape architecture he produced for the Buffalo Zoological Gardens. The cast iron gates #3 and #4 produced in 1935 that are anchored in concrete piers with Onondaga limestone veneers provide welcoming entrances to earlier zoo paths. The structures were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. He continued working on drawings for zoo structures and grounds for the next two decades, working together with landscape architect Roeder J. Kinkel.



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