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Thursday, June 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Architect Mel Streeter "left a legacy of his creative genius"

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle architect Mel Streeter was the ultimate optimist. That spirit allowed him time and again to do things others told him would be impossible, and it kept him going when amyloidoisis — a disease that destroys internal organs — began to destroy his heart and lungs.

Mr. Streeter died Monday evening, surrounded by his family. Few knew how sick he had been for the past five years. His son, Kurt, said the disease slowed his father but it didn't keep him from working until just recently, and he'd downplay his problems when friends asked.

Mr. Streeter was 75. His architectural firm, Streeter and Associates, designed the African American Academy, the Northwest Regional Headquarters for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Auburn City Hall.

Streeter and Associates also participated in designing Qwest Field and Safeco Field, among many other projects.

But when Mr. Streeter came to Seattle in 1955 he had to struggle just to land a job as an architect.

In an interview with The Seattle Times 10 years ago, Mr. Streeter said, "I love a challenge." He applied to 22 firms before finding one willing to hire a young African American.

Mr. Streeter grew up in Riverside, Calif. His father was a porter and his mother a cook. A mechanical-drawing class in high school ignited his love of architecture and his determination did the rest.

Mr. Streeter was an accomplished athlete, tall and muscular. He was recruited by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, but he chose to attend the University of Oregon instead, because it offered him a chance to study architecture.

While there, he met and married Kathleen Burgess in 1954, another pioneering act, since she was white, and Oregon had lifted its ban on interracial unions only three years earlier.

He is known for his nurturing of young black architects. Sam Cameron, one of the principals of Streeter and Associates, said that in the 1970s when he was just out of school and looking for a job, Mr. Streeter helped him find a position.

Mr. Streeter is also known for his civic involvement. He was a member of Tabor 100, The Breakfast Group and Kiwanis. He served on the Seattle Planning Commission from 1989 to 2000.

Former Mayor Norm Rice said, "Mel has left his imprint on so many of our structures. He has left a legacy of his creative genius that we can hold in tribute ... ." He said Mr. Streeter helped sustain the drive to create an African-American museum.

Kurt Streeter said his father's character is reflected in the accomplishments of his sons.

Doug is a noted London architect who plans to join the leadership of his father's firm. Jon is an attorney who was president of the San Francisco Bar Association last year. Ken is an aspiring screenwriter. Kurt is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. One of his stories was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize last year.

"The great thing about my dad, he was just a champion of everything we would do," Kurt said. "From the time I was a toddler, I remember him saying, 'You can be anything you want.' No limitations is what he provided me, and he did the same for my brothers."

Mr. Streeter is survived by his wife, Kathleen; his four sons, Doug, London; Jon, Berkeley, Calif.; Ken, Seattle; and Kurt, Los Angeles; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Streeter will be buried in California with his parents and brother. The family is planning a Seattle memorial service this summer.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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