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D.C. architect Paul Devrouax led the way for black firms

Architect Paul Devrouax Jr., who died March 22 at age 67, was a principal in the firm of Devrouax & Purnell, and helped design many landmark buildings in the Washington region, including Nationals Park, the D.C. Convention Center, Pepco building and Freddie Mac headquarters.

It became an instant landmark in its own right and was notable for something beyond its striking architectural presence.

"Surprisingly -- astonishingly," Forgey wrote, "the Pepco headquarters is the first downtown building in this majority black city ever known to be designed by African American architects."

The Pepco building, along with virtually every other project Devrouax & Purnell has handled, was finished on time and under budget. But even with a reputation as some of the city's most reliable and respected architects, Mr. Devrouax and Purnell still had a hard time breaking into the D.C. network of builders and developers.

A soft-spoken man who didn't like to raise the specter of racism in his profession, Mr. Devrouax sometimes wondered whether there could be any other explanation.

"It's difficult to put a finger on it, to say this is it," he told The Post. "We went to all the meetings and got to know all the movers and shakers. But our phone didn't ring."

Paul Spencer Devrouax Jr. was born on Oct. 4, 1942, in New Orleans. In his teens, while living with an uncle in Los Angeles, he attended a lecture at his high school by African American architect Paul R. Williams, who designed homes for dozens of Hollywood entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck and Danny Thomas.

Mr. Devrouax returned to Louisiana and received his architecture degree from Southern University at Baton Rouge, then began his career at an Arlington County subsidiary of Westinghouse. He practiced architecture briefly in Miami before forming his first firm in Washington in 1973. Mr. Devrouax served on many cultural and civic councils and was president of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

His immediate survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Brenda Stallworth, and a daughter, Lesley Devrouax, both of Washington; and two brothers.

But in another sense, Mr. Devrouax leaves a larger family of hundreds of younger architects who learned under his tutelage. No fewer than 14 architectural firms have been formed by his former associates, and in some ways Mr. Devrouax considered them his most enduring edifice.

"We know fully what our responsibility is," he said in 2004. "Helping other young architects -- now, that's the most rewarding accomplishment."


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