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

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, June 15, 2024

Bernard Marson, a catalyst for SoHo's renaissance,dies at 91
Bernard Marson and his wife, Ellen Marson, at their Manhattan home in Aug. 9, 1989. Bernard Marson “was responsible almost single-handedly for the growth of New York City’s SoHo into an artist community and historic district,” a former city official said. Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times.

by Sam Roberts

NEW YORK, NY.- Bernard Marson, who as an architect and developer figured prominently in the transformation of a lower Manhattan industrial district into SoHo, an affordable neighborhood for artists to work and live before it evolved into an enclave of chic boutiques, celebrity bars and overpriced apartments, died July 9 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his son, Alexander.

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

Marson was already a prominent architect in the late 1970s when he happened upon the South Houston Industrial District, a 50-block area of five- and six-story buildings, many with elegant 19th-century cast iron facades. The district had just been spared the wrecking ball when Robert Moses’ plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway were revoked.

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

In Manhattan, many tenants between Houston and Canal streets, mostly small businesses — twine and paper jobbers, rag converters, window shade and corrugated box manufacturers, and garment sweatshops — were moving to places with lower taxes and labor costs, leaving behind a dwindling industrial base that city officials desperately sought to preserve.

These businesses were being replaced by a burgeoning artists colony in the area south of Houston Street, which had already been informally named SoHo. Artists were converting high-ceilinged, undivided loft areas 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 slump, Marson was at the forefront of adapting several former manufacturing buildings to create an entirely new neighborhood.

With other investors, he bought architect Ernest Flagg’s 12-story Little Singer Building as well as four other buildings, including a former glue factory.

Some of the space was already being used illegally by artists, but Marson discovered a loophole in what most city officials believed was an ironclad prohibition — an obscure zoning resolution that allowed for “studios with accessory living” in manufacturing districts. To the officials’ dismay, the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals ordered the Buildings Department to allow Marson to proceed.

What ensued was a protracted legal and administrative conflict. On one side were city officials and some landlords seeking to enforce the zoning law to protect existing tenants and forestall gentrification; on the other, with Marson at the forefront, were developers and artists groups arguing for zoning variances to reflect the new realities of the real estate market.

“This basically legalized what was already happening,” said Peter Samton, an architect and former colleague of Marson’s. “The unique aspects of his contributions were the melding of architecture and development, which at the time, some 50 years ago, were so uncommon.”

In 1982, state lawmakers passed legislation that Carl Weisbrod, director of New York City’s Office of Loft Enforcement, said would protect 90% of loft tenants, including those in the major 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 Marson at the time as “a critical player in the transformation of SoHo from its sweatshop past to its jewel-like present.”

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

Bernard Aaron Marson was born on March 21, 1931, in Manhattan to Alexander Marson, an immigrant from Russia who became a paint salesman, and Etta (Germaine) Marson, who worked at a store in Harlem. He was raised in the West Bronx.

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

After receiving 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 Frick museum nearby is being renovated.

In his own practice, Marson was notably commissioned to renovate the 1920s Montauk Manor, the Tudor Revival hotel on the East End of 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, along with their daughter, Eve, and two grandchildren. The couple moved to California in 2017.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

August 4, 2022

A battlefield from 1777 yields a dozen mercenaries' remains

Cheekwood acquires sculpture from notable Nashville-born, Brooklyn-based artist Virginia Overton

Nationalmuseum acquires sculpture by Carl Richard Söderström

Sprüth Magers presents new glass sculptures by Andreas Schulze in Venice

Jeremy Eden awarded Archibald Prize 2022 ANZ People's Choice award for portrait of Samuel Johnson

Phillips in collaboration with The Artist Room presents New Romantics in Seoul

Bortolami announces the passing of Mary Obering

The pedal steel gets its resurrection

AstaGuru's 'Opulent Collectibles' auction impresses collectors of vintage and antique decoratives

Pérez Art Museum Miami presents 'Mariano: Variations on a Theme'

Zeitz MOCAA opens a site-specific commission of monumental scale by Joël Andrianomearisoa

Oscar Wilde first edition, Tom of Finland original illustrations, historic ephemera, & more at Swann

Buxton Contemporary presents a newly commissioned work by Susan Jacobs

Eli N. Evans, who wrote about Jews in the American south, dies at 85

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

'Paint brush warrior' Tom Phillips announced as 2022 Guildhouse Fellow

SuperRare's 'Ghost In The Machine' opens at SoHo Gallery

At the BlackStar Film Festival, a revelatory understanding of cinema

Mo Ostin, music powerhouse who put artists first, dies at 95

The Shed presents 'Tiona Nekkia McClodden: The Trace of an Implied Presence'

New Frontier's Aug. 27 annual auction features iconic John Wayne film-worn hats & apparel

"Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters" launches two new projects

Nicola Vassell Gallery presents a group show examining novel and stirring interpretations of interior space

15th Triennial Kleinplastik Fellbach announces winners of the Triennial Prize

The art of playing Swedish casino online

The Science of Spatial Learning Inside Virtual Reality

Why Yiwu Sourcing Agencies Are Best in China

Medical marijuana is not a myth

3 Tips For a Fast WordPress Website

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful