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VOL.28, NO.10

Leisure World designer moves in

Breaking barriers Even though he was designing Leisure World, Navy noted that, as an African American, he likely would not have been welcome to live there when it first opened, had he been old enough. Navy has been facing and breaking color barriers his whole life. Growing up in Houston, Texas, he went to segregated schools. There, he often would trace words and photos in the newspaper to hone his drawing skills. “I developed quite an artistic hand and ended up being quite talented with drawing. When I went to high school, a teacher started a program of architectural and mechanical drafting,” Navy said. “I liked it, and he

OCTOBER 2016

I N S I D E …

PHOTO BY REY LOPEZ

By Barbara Ruben Back in the mid-1960s, upper Georgia Avenue was a two-lane road heading into farmland in Montgomery County, Md. But a 610acre plot of farmland abutting the road — carved out of the area between Aspen Hill and Olney — was about to become one of the largest retirement communities of its day in the U.S. Harold Navy, just a few years out of architecture school at Howard University, was one of a cadre of architects drafting what would become Leisure World’s first townhouses, clubhouse and other structures when it opened in September 1966. “It was a concept completely new to the area, a community of senior citizens. I thought there would be a bunch of old people coming here, and never once thought about how one day I’d be old enough to be here,” said Navy, 81, who moved into one of Leisure World’s high-rise condominiums two years ago with Arlillian, his wife of nearly 60 years. Trees that were saplings when the first of what are now 8,700 residents moved in now tower over some of the curving walking paths that Navy helped plan. “We added sidewalks and ramps, all kinds of designs to encourage walking. Benches and parks where residents could sit and talk to each other. Landscaping with trees where they would feel comfortable being outside,” recalled Navy from his ninth floor condo, which overlooks the golf course where he and his colleagues would play a round after work during Leisure World’s early days.

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SEE SPECIAL INSERT Housing & Homecare Options following page 30

L E I S U R E & T R AV E L

Fifty years ago, architect Harold Navy helped design the original buildings of Leisure World. Now, he lives in the community of nearly 9,000 residents in Silver Spring, Md. As a principal in Washington’s first African American-owned architectural firm, he designed Metro stops, Howard University’s business school, and worked on projects built overseas from Afghanistan to Haiti.

liked me. He motivated me and mentored me all the way through. At that time I was thinking of dentistry. But he motivated me to go into architecture. Even today I’m very happy I did.” When he realized he would not be allowed to enter the architecture program at the segregated University of Texas, he won a scholarship that allowed him to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. After finishing its five-year architecture program, he got ready to return to Houston in 1959. “But Houston was not ready for black architects. I don’t think any part of Texas was. I started trying to seek employment in Houston, but they wanted to pay me less than they paid the janitors,” Navy recalled. So he stayed in Washington and started work at a Silver Spring firm that, a few years

later, would land the account to design Leisure World. He and Arlillian, who worked in education and then at the upper levels of real estate companies, found a house in an enclave of mid-century modern homes with enormous windows designed by renowned architect Charles Goodman. The only problem was that, in the years just before the Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed, the Silver Spring community didn’t allow blacks. The Navys had to petition the neighbors to let them in. Navy remembers them being “very accepting” though, and that the neighborhood was filled with other architects and artists. But their housing problems didn’t end there. Housing discrimination extended to See ARCHITECT, page 20

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