Architect fought against discrimination

Times Staff Writer

Arthur Silvers, an architect who designed structures throughout California and also worked to end discrimination in housing and employment, died Jan. 18 of pulmonary fibrosis at a hospital in Santa Monica, according to his son John. He was 77.

For many years, Silvers worked with Robert Kennard, a prominent African American architect in Los Angeles. The men belonged to a post-World War II generation of architects whose work represented a break from traditional, European-influenced design. Silvers and Kennard were modernists whose influences were Richard Neutra and Victor Gruen, said Kennard’s daughter Gail Kennard, who is president of Kennard Design Group.

In the 1960s, Silvers and Kennard designed Temple Akiba in Culver City. With a hexagonal shape and wedge-shaped rooms, the structure was unlike any other synagogue in the city.


“Art Silvers was the designer of that,” Gail Kennard said. “It was very modern for the times. It still is. [Silvers] was an excellent designer.”

Silvers also designed the Strawflower Shopping Center at Half Moon Bay, worked with Kennard on several buildings of what is now the Thurgood Marshall College at UC San Diego and wrote urban design guidelines for a commercial center in the Fillmore District of San Francisco.

Silvers was an artist at heart whose form of expression was architecture, John Silvers said. But he was equally concerned with social justice.

As chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality in Los Angeles in the 1960s, Silvers took legal action against landlords and organized protests against business owners who engaged in discriminatory practices. In speeches, Silvers outlined reasons that civil disobedience and demonstrations were necessary, recalled David B. Finkel, a longtime friend and retired judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

“The first was to encourage the owners to hire black employees,” Finkel said. “And the second was to . . . [increase awareness in] the community that landlords were renting to whites but refusing to rent to blacks.”

The Congress of Racial Equality would send two couples -- one white, one black -- to various apartments, Finkel said. Some owners told the African Americans that there were no vacancies but later offered a unit to the white couple. Those cases sometimes ended up in court, said Finkel, who as a young attorney performed legal work for the group.


In 1964, Silvers, who was sometimes arrested during demonstrations, and other leaders were called to speak before a state Senate subcommittee examining race relations and urban problems. Silvers explained that the protests against businesses created some animosity but also yielded positive results.

“I think progress has been made by those companies reached by civil rights people,” he told the committee, according to a 1964 Los Angeles Times article.

Born in Los Angeles on July 12, 1930, Silvers graduated from Polytechnic High and in the early 1950s married his wife, Gertrude. The couple had two children before divorcing. In addition to his son John, Silvers is survived by another son, Gene of Los Angeles, and a granddaughter, Joie-May Silvers.

Silvers eventually enrolled in the school of architecture at USC and graduated in 1959. In the early 1960s, Silvers joined Kennard to form Kennard & Silvers. Later he served as vice president of Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Silvers earned a master’s degree in engineering in 1978. From 1978 until 1986 he served on the faculty of Cal Poly’s architecture department.

“He was a strong role model for young people,” Gail Kennard said.

A memorial service is scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m. at Agape International Spiritual Center, 5700 Buckingham Parkway, Culver City 90230.