Architect Edwin A. Gibson (1925-2011) left a statewide legacy of public, religious, commercial, institutional and residential buildings, a legacy that began in Fort Wayne.
After growing up in Indianapolis and graduating with honors from the University of Illinois with bachelors and masters degrees in architectural engineering, Gibson came to work at Fort Wayne’s prestigious A.M. Strauss & Associates architecture firm in 1946, the year he also became Indiana’s first black registered architect.
His career at Strauss was distinguished both professionally and creatively. He became a partner and firm treasurer in 1958, and in 1963 then-Indiana Gov. Matthew Welch hired him away to return to Indianapolis and become Director of Public Works for the state. He spent the rest of his busy and successful career in Indianapolis, founding his own architecture firm, Ed. Gibson & Associates, in 1965, at the time the only minority-owned architectural firm in the state.
We need only study the buildings he left behind in Fort Wayne to understand Gibson’s creative success as an architect. A modernist who designed with a vein of Frank Lloyd Wright inspiration visible in his work, Gibson created buildings with distinctive characteristics. A Gibson building — whether a university classroom building, a synagogue or home — may well be comprised of long, low rectangles that intersect as angles and flow with the lay of the land. Gibson used repeating patterns — in banks of windows, in entry area screens and in masonry. His interiors surprise and delight with their sense of space and natural light flooding in.
It is a hard fact of the times that Gibson’s professional and creative success in Fort Wayne earned him so much, without giving him a personal home in the neighborhoods where the homes he designed were located. The first Gibson family home in Fort Wayne, 427 Lasselle Street, has been lost to blight and demolition. Their second home, 525 E. Masterson Ave., still stands but is dilapidated. We must remember when he lived and worked here. The U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, after he had returned to Indianapolis, and did not add the Fair Housing Act until 1968.
One additional aspect of Edwin Gibson’s professional career is notable. Marketing materials for his Indianapolis firm (open 1965-1986) reveal his use of historic preservation as a benefit to real estate development, even though he called it “Space Recapture,” not historic preservation. His firm promised savings of time and money, plus environmental conservation and building security by using its Space Recapture technology.