African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
By Marlys Deen
The promise of parkridge
Hilyard R. Robinson, pioneer architect and engineer in low-income public housing, shown completing plans for new war-housing project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The original Parkridge Homes development, was built in 1943 as a response to a housing shortage for area workers following an unsuccessful attempt to integrate Willow Run public housing. Mr. Robinson has designed public housing projects costing more than $10,000,000.
Ypsilanti Homes had a Famous Architect
Hilyard Robert Robinson was a renown architect in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in Washington D.C in 1899. His mother was a seamstress and his grandfather, a shoe-shiner. He designed many buildings, housing projects, and homes for celebrities in California, and his designs induced the Roosevelt Administration to pass the National Housing Act. Some of Robinson’s designs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
He attended the distinguished M Street High School in Washington D.C., and subsequently studied at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts in 1917. He left school during World War I, serving as a second lieutenant in France. Upon returning home, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, left there, and enrolled at Columbia University, receiving a B.A. in 1922 and M.A in 1931. He served as the head of the Department of Architecture for more than a decade at Howard University as well as designed some of the buildings on the campus.
After marrying Helena Rooks in 1931, he traveled abroad and personally studied the designs of their government-sponsored housing provisions. He studied architecture in Berlin, Vienna, Denmark, Russia, Holland, and Scandinavia. After the Public Works Administration was established, he served as the head architect, leading a team of architects to the design of the nation's first public housing development, Langston Terrace. “ Langston Terrace and Robinson's work with it helped lead to the passage in 1937 of the first national Housing Act” (encyclopedia.com). He began to design and build other public housing development. He worked on many projects on the East Coast, West Coast, and in between. He designed the Tuskegee Army Airfield where the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained in Alabama, and supervised the construction in 1941.
The Promise of Parkridge Homes
When thousands began to pour into the Ypsilanti, MI area to work at the Ford Willow Run Bomber plant in Ypsilanti, there was a great need for housing for families. Workers came to build the B-24 bombers. He designed the war-housing project for Black workers, Parkridge Homes, in Ypsilanti in 1943. “Willow Run was built just for white workers, and Parkridge was meant just for Black workers (not just for Willow Run workers). By the time Parkridge was finished, the color line had been broken at Willow Lodge (at least externally)”, according to local historian Matt Siegfried..
In his service as a consultant and architect, Hilyard Robinson worked with other prominent African American architects: Paul Williams, Vertner Tandy, and Ralph Vaughn (who attended the University of Michigan in the summer of 1932). Robinson died in 1986 and received many awards in architectural competitions and designs. Hilyard Robinson Way, named in his honor, is located in the New Parkridge apartments in Ypsilanti Michigan.
If you have more information or have any questions, please contact the author, Marlys Deen at email@example.com. Ms. Deen is a local historian and co-chair of the AACHM Collections & Exhibit Committee.
Parkridge History Links
Designed by prominent African-American architect Hilyard Robinson, Parkridge Homes served as segregated housing for African-American wartime workers in Ypsilanti.
Ypsilanti to begin demolition of aging Parkridge Homes public housing
The Ypsilanti Black Heritage Project This project gives voice to the dynamic, yet under-reported history of Black people in Ypsilanti, Michigan. From the pre-Civil War period through the 1970s, Ypsilanti was home to one of the most vibrant African-American communities in Michigan--a community of trailblazers in early childhood education, civic life, and abolitionist activity.