Calvin T.S. Brent (1854-1899) is widely accepted as the city's first black architect. Although that professional title was not entirely defined in the early 1870s when he began his practice, he was the first black architect known to apprentice to an established white architect for the purpose of entering the profession. Brent and his second wife Laurelia Brown Brent lived at 1700 V Street, NW, briefly in the early 1890s. His other homes have been demolished.
Brent was the son of John and Elizabeth Edmondson Brent. His father, born enslaved, had earned money to purchase his freedom and that of his betrothed. A government employee, the father eventually purchased land at 18th and L streets, NW, where he built a house for the family. Later Calvin inherited the property and built another house on the site. The land remained in the family until 1947.
John Brent was the founding pastor of John Wesley AME Zion Church in 1847. The family were pillars of the church, and this community became an important source of commissions for Calvin Brent.
Calvin Brent was born at his parents' home at 18th and L streets, NW, near Dupont Circle. At the age of 19 he apprenticed to Plowman and Weightman, a firm of architects in the 600 block of E St., NW. He began practicing in 1875 and is credited with more than 100 projects as architect or architect/builder in all four quadrants of the city. He designed Fourth Baptist (later Metropolitan Baptist) Church, 1225 R Street, NW, since demolished; Mount Jezreel Baptist, Fifth and E streets, SE; Miles Chapel (later Miles Memorial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church), 1110 Third Street, NW (demolished); and Third Baptist Church, 1546 Fifth Street, NW. Historians believe that as a young architect, Brent probably did not design St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 15th and Church streets, NW, but instead modified existing plans that originated in England.
Of Brent's work, three churches (Mount Jezreel, Third Baptist, and St. Luke's) and 17 houses or groups of houses are still standing today. Among the houses is one built for J.L. Rogers at 1737 S Street, NW.