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*Lorenzo Williams was born on September 3, 1923. He was a Black architect, entrepreneur, and activist.
Lorenzo "Pete" Williams was born in Louisville, KY. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army. After the military, in 1950, he graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in Architecture. In an early job in the Minneapolis office of architect Benjamin Gingold, he met James O'Brien, who became a lifetime friend and business partner. In 1962, they formed a firm later named Williams/O'Brien Associates Inc., and for 37 years, until Williams retired in 1999, was business partners with offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Early projects included Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis and the Jamestown Homes in St. Paul. In the mid-1960s, the two formalized a process that gave neighbors a strong say about projects in low-income communities. Subsequent Minneapolis projects included Findley Place housing development, which was honored with a 1975 citation from Progressive Architecture magazine; the Bethune (formerly Grant) Park housing project, a Plymouth Avenue redesign, and the Matthews Park project in the Seward neighborhood. Williams also served on state and national commissions dedicated to making public buildings handicapped-accessible, with appointments by President Lyndon Johnson and Minnesota Govs. Karl Rolvaag and Harold LeVander.
He was a founding member of the Monitors Club, which provided Black men with social, financial, and civic opportunities. Family life was also important to him, said his daughter Pamela Maury, who cared for her father during his final years at her California home. "He was the best thing in the world," she said. "When I was young, we'd go to his office on Saturdays and he'd sit us up on the drafting tables; it was back in the day when architecture was done with pencils and we'd color and draw and just be so happy."
Williams died of complications from Alzheimer's disease on Aug. 26, 2011, at his daughter's home in Torrance, Calif. He was 87. "Lorenzo was committed to bringing beauty to the lives of all people, including people of low or moderate means," said Minneapolis civil rights advocate Josie Johnson, Williams' companion of more than 20 years. "He brought artistry to his work as an architect." Williams was preceded in death in 1984 by his wife of 31 years, Lillian Williams, the first director of the University of Minnesota's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action; his daughter Pamela Maury and his fiancée, Josie Johnson.
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Pamela Miller, 612-673-4290