Alonzo Robinson’s diverse and expansive portfolio reveals the passion he harboured for the field of architecture and dedication he maintained to his community. Though he worked extremely hard, it was never easy. Robinson entered the field of architecture at the budding of the Civil Rights Movement and weathered discrimination throughout his career. In 1998 Walter Wilson, FAIA, Wisconsin’s second Black architect, reflected on the importance of Robinson’s career to Black designers following in his footsteps: “By his presence here and the work that he did, he opened the door for others to come through, like me.”
As Wilson pointed out, it isn’t just Robinson’s status as the first Black registered architect in the state that deserves our recognition. Additional merit lies in his dedication to great architecture. Robinson’s modern and contemporary designs are quietly creative as they carefully balance the scale and appearance of the surrounding environment with functionality and aesthetics. Although only a small portion of Robinson’s portfolio is recorded, his known work speaks to his expert ability to negotiate with the surroundings and produce quality designs in neighborhoods all over Milwaukee.
1962, March 11. Dedication for Fire Building Set. Milwaukee Sentinel, 13.
1964, August 15. Church Built by Prayer. The Milwaukee Journal, 4.
1974, September 9. Alonzo Robinson. Milwaukee Star.
Blackwell, Edward H. (1973, September 2). Afro-American Style for Architecture? The Milwaukee Journal, 63.
Clevert, Leslie Johnson. (1977, March 10). Future Uncertain for Once Busy Plaza. The Milwaukee Journal, 82.
Iglitzen, Marlene. (1973, August 19). Black Project in Core Plans Unveiling. The Milwaukee Journal, 117.
Miston, Bill. (2021, February 9). Common Council OKs Renaming MFD HQ in Honor of Alonzo Robinson. Fox 6 News. https://www.fox6now.com/news/common-council-oks-renaming-mfd-hq-in-honor-of-alonzo-robinson.
Pabst, Georgia. (2000, July 1). Robinson was a Pioneer Among Wisconsin Architects. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 04.
About the Authors
Paul Wellington is a Milwaukee Public Library Supervisor and author of Black Built: History and Architecture in the Black Community. He is also Co-founder and the Director of Operations and Technology for MKE Black, a nonprofit that empowers and supports Black-owned businesses in Milwaukee.
Kelsey Kuehn is an Architectural Historian at Jacobs Engineering Group.
Wellington and Kuehn are both alumni of UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning and members of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance.
Beyond Cream City Brick: Modernism in Milwaukee is part of the Docomomo US Regional Spotlight on Modernism Series, which was launched to help you explore modern places throughout the country without leaving your home. Previous spotlights include Chicago, Mississippi, Midland, Michigan, Houston, Las Vegas, Colorado, Kansas, and Pittsburgh. Have a region you'd like to see highlighted? Submit an article.
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