Bernard Marson, a Catalyst for SoHo’s Renaissance, Dies at 91

Bernard Marson, who as an architect and developer figured prominently within the transformation of a Lower Manhattan industrial district into SoHo, an inexpensive neighborhood for artists to work and dwell earlier than it developed into an enclave of stylish boutiques, superstar bars and overpriced residences, died on July 9 at his house in Los Angeles. He was 91.

His dying was confirmed by his son, Alexander.

“Mr. Marson was accountable virtually single-handedly for the expansion of New York City’s SoHo into an artist neighborhood and historic district,” Raquel Ramati, who headed the Urban Design Group in Mayor John V. Lindsay’s administration, mentioned in recommending him for a fellowship with the American Institute of Architects.

Mr. Marson was already a distinguished architect within the late Nineteen Seventies when he occurred upon the South Houston Industrial District, a 50-block space of ​​five-and-six-story buildings, many with elegant Nineteenth-century forged iron facades. The district had simply been spared the wrecking ball when Robert Moses’s plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway have been revoked.

The neighborhood was in transition, ripe for the type of venture that Mr. Marson had undertaken with the Israeli architect Moshe Safdie in Jerusalem: renovating the plaza of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter within the Old City from 1974 to 1976.

In Manhattan, many tenants between Houston and Canal Streets, principally small companies — twine and paper jobbers, rag converters, window shade and corrugated field producers, and garment sweatshops — have been transferring to locations with decrease taxes and labor prices, forsaking a dwindling industrial base that metropolis officers desperately sought to protect.

These companies have been being changed by a burgeoning artists’ colony within the space south of Houston Street, which had already been informally named SoHo. Artists have been changing high-ceilinged, undivided loft areas into studios and residing areas — a violation of metropolis laws in a neighborhood zoned for industrial use.

In the late Nineteen Seventies, when the town was in an financial stoop, Mr. Marson was at the forefront of adapting a number of former manufacturing buildings to create a wholly new neighborhood.

With different traders, he purchased the architect Ernest Flagg’s 12-story Little Singer Building in addition to 4 different buildings, together with a former glue manufacturing facility.

Some of the area was already getting used illegally by artists, however Mr. Marson found a loophole in what most metropolis officers believed was an ironclad prohibition — an obscure zoning decision that allowed for “studios with accent residing” in manufacturing districts. To the officers’ dismay, the town’s Board of Standards and Appeals ordered the Buildings Department to permit Mr. Marson to proceed.

What ensued was a protracted authorized and administrative battle. On one aspect have been metropolis officers and a few landlords searching for to implement the zoning legislation to guard current tenants and forestall gentrification; on the opposite, with Mr. Marson at the forefront, have been builders and artists’ teams arguing for zoning variances to mirror the brand new realities of the true property market.

“This principally legalized what was already occurring,” mentioned Peter Samton, an architect and former colleague of Mr. Marson’s. “The distinctive elements of his contributions have been the melding of structure and improvement, which at the time, some 50 years in the past, have been so unusual.”

In 1982, state lawmakers handed laws that Carl Weisbrod, director of New York City’s Office of Loft Enforcement, mentioned would shield 90 p.c of loft tenants, together with these within the main loft neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca and NoHo in Lower Manhattan.

Anthony Schirripa, who was president of the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter in 2010, described Mr. Marson at the time as “a important participant within the transformation of SoHo from its sweatshop previous to its jewel-like current.”

Recent recorded gross sales within the neighborhood have included a two-bedroom house at 561 Broadway going for $4 million and a one-bedroom at 242 Lafayette Street for $2 million.

Bernard (*91*) Marson was born on March 21, 1931, in Manhattan to Alexander Marson, an immigrant from Russia who turned a paint salesman, and Etta (Germaine) Marson, who labored in a retailer in Harlem. He was raised within the West Bronx.

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

After receiving a diploma in structure from Cooper Union in 1961, he labored with Marcel Breuer as that architect’s website consultant in the course of the building of the Whitney Museum of American Art on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a Brutalist construction now quickly housing the Frick Collection whereas the Frick museum close by is being renovated.

In his personal observe, Mr. Marson was notably commissioned to renovate the Nineteen Twenties Montauk Manor, the Tudor Revival resort on the East End of Long Island designed by Schultz and Weaver and constructed by Carl G. Fisher, who developed Miami Beach, when the resort was transformed into condominiums within the Nineteen Seventies .

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

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