Burchfield honors Buffalo’s first African-American architect

Joseph Morganti, Reporter


Burchfield Penney Art Center is hosting an event dedicated to Buffalo’s first African-American architect, John E. Brent, on Wed, Dec. 2. General admission is free to SUNY Buffalo State students, faculty, staff, and Burchfield Penney Art Center members. For everyone else, admission is $5-10.

The exhibit will show Brent’s architectural and landscape designs through photographs as well as original drawings, blueprints and copies. It will also include artifacts such as drafting tools Brent used from his own home office.

Trevor Duk, an architecture student at the University of Buffalo who will be attending the exhibit, was asked what his personal thoughts on Brent were.

“Not only was he Buffalo’s first African-American architect, but he designed a significant building in American history,” Duk said.

In 1926, Brent became the second African-American to design an African-American YMCA, Buffalo’s Michigan Avenue YMCA. It cost $200,000 to build, half of which was donated by Buffalonian George Matthews. It had a cafeteria, gymnasium, swimming pool, barber shop, tailor shop, library, classrooms, locker rooms, dormitory rooms, and billiard tables. It was demolished in April 1977.

Josh Thomas, an architecture student at Alfred State, was asked “From what you’ve learned in school, what impact do you think the Buffalo Michigan Avenue YMCA had on Buffalo?” When asked, Thomas responded:

“Since it was only the second ever African-American YMCA, the building meant that steps were being held toward equality in the United States as time went on.”

After the building was constructed in 1926, Brent remained involved with the Michigan Avenue YMCA, serving as a board member and fundraiser. He then became a founding member of the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), serving as its first president. Later, he served on the local council of the State Commission Against Discrimination.

Brent lived at 219 Glenwood Ave. until he died on Oct. 27, 1962. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Brent will now be re-recognized on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center all day.

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