[Originally published 2nd quarter 2002, in arcCA 02.2, “Citizen Architects.”]
Author Vinceena Kelly, AIA, is a licensed architect and a certified construction specifier. She was president of the Long Beach/South Bay Chapter of the AIA in 1995, has served on the AIACC Board of Directors, and chaired the AIACC Awards Committee in 2001. Ms. Kelly is a regent for the California Architectural Foundation and was president of the Foundation in 2001. She works as the facilities planning officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
When Manuel Perez decided to study architecture, it was because of his interest in the built environment. What he found out along the way was that architecture was the perfect vehicle for his civic activism because it allowed him an influence over the people side of the environment.
Manny was born in Mexico and watched his father active in the chamber of deputies in the State of Mexico. What interested him was not the power that could come with social connections, but the ability to translate that influence into helping others. As a young boy, his family immigrated to southern California. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Yale in 1971 but decided to move back to southern California to pursue his Masters in Architecture and Urban Planning, which he received from UCLA in 1974.
As with most things, one thing led to another. Work opportunities led to volunteer opportunities and finally to positions of leadership where his training and profession could help influence decisions that would effect the growth and development of the entire region.
Manny’s first position after UCLA was Senior Planner for the City of Brea. Becoming active in the Orange County construction industry led to his selection as director of government affairs for the Orange County Building Industry Association. This was during the period of some of the greatest growth in the region. Citizens came to know Manny for his passion about the environment and public service. He was appointed to the Huntington Beach Design Review Board and then to the Redevelopment Commission.
When he and his wife Linda decided to move to Long Beach in 1979, Manny found a community rich in diversity and eager to embrace those willing to work for the good of the whole. His architectural practice led him to meet civic leaders from both the governmental side and the social service side. His knowledge of urban design from a practical and an academic point of view was recognized across many venues. During his 20+ years of public service in Long Beach, he served under 4 mayors and numerous city council members, establishing a broad legacy spanning political parties and agendas.
His architectural practice gave him an insight into the needs and wants of the Long Beach area. He worked with local groups in designing their facilities as well as maneuvering through the governmental process of zoning. It was through those connections that Manny was appointed to serve on the City of Long Beach Community Development Advisory Commission as well as the Planning Commission. And his activism was recognized outside the municipality when he was appointed as citizen member to the Los Angeles County Transportation Rail Construction Committee.
When the Lusk School of Real Estate Development was established at the University of Southern California, Manny was selected as an Adjunct Professor. He continued to teach at USC in the School of Policy, Planning, & Development, reaching university students and community members as well.
The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects benefited from Manny’s desire to participate in the interests and concerns of the profession. He served on the local Long Beach/South Bay (formerly Cabrillo) Chapter Board of Directors, was chapter president, and acted as chapter delegate on the AIA California Council’s Board of Directors. His urban design training led to his selection as team member for the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) for Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1990 and later as participant and chair of the AIACC Urban Design Committee. The state recognized his work by giving him an AIACC Public Service Honor Award in 1999.
Manny Perez saw himself as a matchmaker. His greatest pleasure came from making connections between groups and introducing people to others to allow them to make things happen. He seemed to have a knack for putting people together. Each connection made led to the possibility of another connection. It didn’t matter what the nature of the organization was, if people needed to meet people, Manny was there. When he served on the City of Long Beach Social Services Task Force, it was his business background that allowed him to recommend guidelines to the City Council for locating social service agencies in the downtown area to balance those needs with the business community’s needs. When he worked with the Knight Foundation Long Beach Area Advisory committee, he was able to make recommendations for grants to be awarded to various organizations in the Long Beach area. Or when he participated in the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, Manny helped place at-risk kids in jobs.
Manny used the experience and knowledge gained through his architectural practice to become a vital member of his community. His enthusiasm for working with people was valued and sought after. He lost a long battle with heart disease in September 2001 and will be missed by all.