Victor Saroki: 2017 Pillar of Culture.
By Mary Meldrum
Photography by Brett Mountain
Each year, the Bates Street Society, in association with the Community House, recognizes individuals as “Pillars of Vibrancy” who have contributed to the community in the categories of education, culture, wellness and philanthropy. These individuals are selected by the board, the staff and supporters of the Community House and are honored at the annual Bates Street Society Dinner in January.
This year, Victor Saroki was chosen as one of the 2017 Pillars of Culture. Victor is not only a respected businessman in Birmingham who owns Saroki Architecture, but he has also generously given back to his community.
His volunteer contributions include service on the board of trustees at Lawrence Technological University and the Chaldean Community Cultural Center. Other notable professional and charitable time has been spent in leadership roles at the American Institute of Architecture of Michigan and Detroit chapters, America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Birmingham YMCA and on the board of directors at the Community House.
His father, a grocer who “came here in 1929 during the Great Depression,” may have been his original inspiration for working hard and contributing. Even though his father was the youngest of five siblings, his high school education in Iraq motivated his family to send Saroki’s father to Detroit; there, he could work and send money back to the family. “He worked seven days a week in a small market,” Saroki says.
His father was also a “very smart businessman” who owned several stores. “At one point, he decided to build a house, so he hired an architect. I was in high school at the time; he would show the drawings to us, and we would sit at the dining room table and listen to him explain the house, the elevations, the doors, windows and the design. I thought this was cool.
“I was thinking about what I was going to do for a career and this piqued my interest in architecture. I was attending University of Detroit High School at the time, which was like a college prep school, and we would all talk about where we wanted to go to college and what we were going to study.”
He pursued his interest in architecture when he attended Lawrence Technological University. As a freshman, he enrolled in a basic design drawing class even though — unlike other students — he hadn’t taken drafting classes in high school. The other students were way ahead.
Early in the semester, “the professor told the class they could skip the basics and go right into a higher level of study,” Saroki says. After class one day, Saroki expressed his concerns to the professor. Rather than hold the class up for one student, the professor told Saroki he would have to catch up on his own with tutoring. Fortunately, a friend of his father’s had a son at Lawrence Tech in the architecture school who agreed to help him catch up to his classmates. Saroki says he “worked three times harder than anyone else” and, at the end of the semester, he was “the only one in the class who received an A.’’
His work ethic continues. Living and working in Birmingham for more than 20 years has given Saroki the opportunity to design more than 60 buildings in the city limits, including the iconic Birmingham Theater and the Townsend Hotel. His firm also created the Royal Park Hotel, Shenandoah Country Club, Forte, Phoenicia and Tribute restaurants, the Plum Markets and Market Square, to name a few.
With more than 70 design awards, the list is impressive, and the plaques associated with these awards are stacked high on the walls of Saroki’s office in Birmingham.
When asked about his favorite projects, he smiles. “Everyone asks me what my favorite project is, and my answer is always ‘the next one, the next project.’”
The distinct excellence of Saroki’s designs has received recognition throughout the years from organizations such as the AIA of Michigan, AIA of Detroit and the Michigan Interior Design Award.
As an award-winning architect and a tireless contributor to community service, Saroki has built an incredible reputation and an impressive cultural legacy that the Community House is excited to honor at the Bates Street Society Dinner. NS
The Bates Street Society Dinner, hosted by the organization’s Board of Directors, is on Jan. 28 at the Community House, 380 Bates St., Birmingham. For tickets and details, contact the communityhouse.com.