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Borrman receives Huntington Fellowship

Closeup of Golden State Mutual Life Building, Los Angeles.
Golden State Mutual Life Building, Los Angeles.

Kristina Borrman, assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, has received a year-long fellowship from the Huntington Library to conduct research on Black architect Paul Revere Williams and the work that he did in support of Black-owned banks in Los Angeles.

The renowned research library based in Los Angeles awards about a dozen long-term fellowships to researchers around the world each year.

Borrman is working on a book about Williams, who designed mansions in white neighborhoods around Los Angeles during the mid-20th century, including homes for Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. At that time, Black neighborhoods in LA were segregated with mainstream banks refusing loan applications to people in those neighborhoods. Williams designed and co-founded banks in the Los Angeles area with the aim of dismantling the racist lending infrastructure that kept Black citizens from economic opportunities.

“As a culture, I think we have an incomplete understanding of Williams’ work,” she said. “There is very little written about him, and the literature that does exist solely concentrates on the houses that he designed for celebrities. A really important part of his story was his commitment to financial activism in his community, and we’ve missed out on that story for a long time.” 

Many U.S. architects had ideas about how to solve housing challenges from a burgeoning population at mid-century in the years after World War II. Many architects were interested in the mass construction of modestly sized houses made of prefab materials that could be easily constructed. Williams published a book on the topic as well.

“But, unlike white architects at the time, Williams realized that one of the main hindrances to Black families in LA buying a home was redlining,” said Borrman. “And so the way to combat redlining was to offer opportunities for Black families to secure affordable loans.”

Kristina Borrman

Williams devoted much of his time in LA to working with Black-owned banks, not only in designing them, but also in managing them for his community.

“I see that as such as unique contribution to the problem of insufficient, affordable housing in the U.S. All the architects at mid-century are sort of interested in this question, but I think that Williams is one of the few that realized that redlining is really a major hurdle for his community,” she said.

Borrman will study Williams’ role in designing as well as managing Golden State Mutual, an art deco designed bank that was located in East Los Angeles. The unique bank included a public cafeteria and an art gallery and was featured in the Green Book, which identified businesses throughout the U.S. that would accept African American customers.

As part of the fellowship, she will do a year-long research residency, will present at a symposium this fall, and will participate in weekly working groups. 

Borrman came to WSU in 2022 as part of the inaugural cohort of WSU’s Racism and Social Inequality in the Americas cluster hire program. The program was initiated to address systemwide needs for scholarship, teaching, and outreach aimed at dismantling systemic racism and to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty and student body. Her area of research is in the construction of social identity, including race, gender, and class, in the built environment. In particular, she has studied historical efforts by American architects to promote social justice through design. 

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