Modern Designers

Nathan Johnson

Design Profession: Architect

Building Types: Commercial, Religious, Residential

Black architect Nathan Johnson, a native of Kansas, moved to Detroit in 1950. He worked with Donald White, the first Black architect licensed in Michigan, and with Victor Gruen and Associates, the architects for the Eastland Shopping Center, before opening his own practice in 1956.

African American churches provided an important source of commissions for Black architects as they attempted to break into an overwhelmingly white profession. Over the course of his career Johnson designed a number of churches or church additions for African American congregations in Southeast Michigan including Bethel AME (5050 St. Antoine Street) and the modern addition for Second Baptist Church (441 Monroe Avenue) in Detroit. He also designed the popular Stanley’s Mannia Café (249 E. Baltimore) as well as a Modern residence for café owner Stanley Hong. In 1960 Johnson combined and redesigned these two residences for his professional offices, located at 2512 West Grand Boulevard, today a private business.

Johnson actively worked to achieve equal employment for African Americans in the city of Detroit. One of his few commissions with the city was as the chief designer of the Detroit People Mover stations. He took the opportunity to support the work of his African American peers, including Aubrey Agee, Roger Margerum, and Sims and Varner, by subcontracting several station designs to them.

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