Bernard Marson, catalyst for SoHo's renaissance, dies at 91

Bernard Marson, who as an architect and developer played a leading role in transforming an industrial neighborhood in Lower Manhattan in...


Bernard Marson, who as an architect and developer played a leading role in transforming an industrial neighborhood in Lower Manhattan into SoHo, an affordable neighborhood where artists could work and live before it became an enclave of chic boutiques, celebrity bars and overpriced apartments. July 9 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 91 years old.

His death was confirmed by his son, Alexander.

“Mr. Marson was almost single-handedly responsible for the growth of New York City SoHo in a community of artists and a historic district”, Raquel Ramatiwho led the urban design group in Mayor John V. Lindsay’s administration, said in recommending him for a fellowship from the American Institute of Architects.

Mr. Marson was already a leading architect in the late 1970s when he came across the South Houston Industrial District, an area of ​​50 blocks of five- and six-story buildings, many with elegant brick facades. 19th century cast iron. The neighborhood had just been spared the wrecking ball when Robert Moses’ plans for a Lower Manhattan freeway were revoked.

The neighborhood was in transition, ripe for the kind of project Mr. Marson undertook with Israeli architect Moshe Safdie in Jerusalem: renovating the Western Wall plaza and the Jewish quarter of the Old City from 1974 to 1976.

In Manhattan, many tenants between Houston and Canal Streets, mostly small businesses — twine and paper wholesalers, rag converters, blind and corrugated box makers, and sweatshops — were moving to places where taxes and labor costs were lower, leaving behind a declining industrial sector. base that city officials were desperate to preserve.

These businesses were being replaced by a thriving artists’ colony in the area south of Houston Street, which was already unofficially called SoHo. The artist was converting high-ceilinged undivided lofts into studios and living spaces – a violation of city regulations in a neighborhood zoned for industrial use.

In the late 1970s, when the city was in an economic crisis, Mr. Marson was at the forefront of adapting several old manufacturing buildings to create an entirely new neighborhood.

Along with other investors, he purchased architect Ernest Flagg’s 12-story Little Singer Building along with four other buildings, including a former glue factory.

Some of the space was already being used illegally by artists, but Mr. Marson discovered a loophole in what most city officials saw as an ironclad ban – an obscure zoning resolution that allowed “workshops with incidental life” in the manufacturing districts. To the dismay of officials, the city’s Standards and Appeals Board ordered the building department to allow Mr. Marson to sue.

What ensued was a protracted legal and administrative dispute. On one side were city officials and some landlords seeking to enforce zoning law to protect existing tenants and prevent gentrification; on the other, with Mr. Marson in the foreground, developers and artists’ groups advocating for zoning differentials to reflect new real estate market realities.

“It basically legalized what was already happening,” said Peter Samton, architect and former colleague of Mr Marson. “The unique aspects of his contributions were the fusion of architecture and development, which at the time, about 50 years ago, were so rare.”

In 1982, state legislators passed legislation that Carl Weisbrod, director of New York’s Office of Loft Enforcement, said he would protect 90% of loft tenants, including those in major loft neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca and NoHo in Lower Manhattan.

Anthony Schirripa, who was president of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2010, described Mr Marson at the time as “a vital player in transforming SoHo from its sweatshop past to its present of jewel”.

Recent sales recorded in the neighborhood include a two-bedroom apartment at 561 Broadway for $4 million and a one-bedroom apartment at 242 Lafayette Street for $2 million.

Bernard Aaron Marson was born on March 21, 1931, in Manhattan to Alexander Marson, a Russian immigrant turned paint salesman, and Etta (Germaine) Marson, who worked at a store in Harlem. He grew up in the West Bronx.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he earned a civil engineering degree from New York University College of Engineering in 1951. He served as a nuclear weapons officer during the Korean War.

After earning a degree in architecture from Cooper Union in 1961, he worked with Marcel Breuer as that architect’s site representative during the construction of the Whitney Museum of American Art on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a Brutalist structure now temporarily housing the Frick Collection while the nearby Frick Museum is being renovated.

In his own firm, Mr. Marson was notably responsible for renovating the 1920s Montauk Manor, the Tudor Revival hotel on eastern Long Island designed by Schultz and Weaver and built by Carl G. Fisher, who developed Miami Beach, when the hotel was converted into condominiums in the 1970s.

He married Ellen Sue Engelson in 1978. In addition to their son, she survives him and their daughter, Eve; and two grandchildren. The couple moved to California in 2017.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Bernard Marson, catalyst for SoHo's renaissance, dies at 91
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