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CITY AS POETRY 2002-2017 MARVIN H. MELTZER AIA


Members of the AIA Housing Committee: 45 years ago, when I started my own practice, I had 3 goals: I wanted to design important buildings, play basketball twice a week and be home in the evenings with my family. I am proud to say that I fulfilled that dream working in NYC and contributing to making this city a special place to live in for all people, regardless of their culture, religion, or economic status. This is reflected in the title of the book written in 2002 about me and my work, which I am sending to you— “City as Poetry” and a subsequent piece---“City as Poetry, 2002-2017”. My Lecture will talk about the journey that led me to where I am today and, at 79 years of age, still continuing the journey . I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota in an ultra religious family that knew nothing about the arts, or, let alone, what an architect does. That was not the environment I grew up in. In 1955 I enrolled in the University of Minnesota and in 1957 entered the School of Architecture. This was, in many ways, a major shock to me and I wondered about what I had done. Important to me, at that time, was the fact that I was the second Jewish person to have ever attended the School of Architecture. It was significant to me because I realized that I was going to be part of a profession where I was going to be different. This was both uncomfortable and challenging to me until I came to New York and found myself in a very different social environment which allowed me to pursue my life as I wanted to. I received a Bachelor of Arts in 1959 and a Bachelor of Architecture in 1961. While in California celebrating my new status in life, I received a phone call that I was being drafted into the Army and had to put my plans on hold for 2 years. I eventually ended up stationed in New York City on Governor’s Island.. After being discharged in 1963 I remained in New York to work as an architect. My dream was starting to take flight. One of my most significant memories was working as a designer on Madison Square Garden which was being built over Penn station. For a young man growing up in St. Paul, this was exciting stuff. In 1972 I started my own practice, working on children’s environments which received a lot of attention and kept me on the road to fulfilling my dream. I am a true believer in everyone having defining moments in their lives. One can embrace those moments and move forward or reject them and search out other alternatives. For me, professionally, there were three defining moments.


In truth, my plan in the development process was to allow me the opportunity to design residential projects and move forward until we would be doing new buildings in NYC. That was my goal!

defining moment #1 In the late ‘70’s I was introduced, by a friend, to Barry Fallis, a CPA, who had clients that were interested in investing in real estate projects in NYC. Those were the days when the Upper West Side was not in very good shape, with many vacant tenement buildings, and other parts of the city where there were great opportunities for developers to take advantage of the J-51 tax abatement program. By doing complete, gut rehabs, a developer was able to maximize the amount of tax abatement allowed on any particular property. We started a real estate development firm named Britton Development, Ltd., opened an office in a small loft building on the Upper East Site, where I also had my fledgling architectural practice, and started to seek out opportunities.

After quite a few gut rehab projects and looking for sites that were more and more visible, we developed a new 16 story apartment building on E. 52nd. A short time later we bought another site in the West 50’s. This is where I learned that a strong design, even if it was not yet built, dramatically increases the value of that property. This is something that I hold true to this day. Point of fact, because of the building I designed; we were approached by a buyer and sold the property at a significant profit. The architect/developer years were very exciting for me. The idea that I could be a successful businessman and a successful architect has stayed with me through my entire career. Unfortunately, the financial crisis came upon us at the end of the ‘80’s and Britton Development, Ltd. was forced to close its doors. It was time to move on.


“This is where I learned that a strong design, even if it was not yet built, dramatically increases the value of that property. This is something that I hold true to this day.�


defining moment #2 At that time, my friend Conrad Levenson, who would ultimately be honored as a Ratensky Lecturer, asked me to work with him on projects that he had in the special needs, homeless and affordable housing arena. I was now on my way to moving from market rate housing in Manhattan to working on socially significant projects— mainly in the boroughs, particularly The Bronx. It was also, at this time, that Ed Koch introduced a $5 billion program to renovate city owned vacant buildings. Phipps Houses was a major client of Conrad’s and one of the projects that he was awarded was the rehabilitation of 20 vacant 6 story buildings on the West Side of Crotona Park in The Bronx. These buildings were in terrible shape and occupied by drug dealers to the point that we had to have police escort us into the buildings to measure them up.

This was a major shock to my system. In a few short months, I went from doing market rate condos on the East Side of Manhattan to sitting in my car, waiting for the police and watching a drug deal go down right in front of me. But, I ultimately realized that I could take my design philosophy—simple, cost effective materials and finishes and apply my design skills to work that had to be done in these communities. When Conrad went on to pursue other endeavors, I continued to work with HPD, OMH, many non-profits on permanent and transitional homeless housing, facilities for the drug addicted, a battered woman’s shelter and affordable housing in all the boroughs with private developers. One project that I am particularly proud of is Melrose Court in the Bronx--three city blocks of low-rise, high-density, for sale housing for the NYC Housing Partnership. I am reminded of standing in the courtyard of one of the blocks, in the middle of the South Bronx, and hearing a sprinkler system come on. It was magical! Here I am, standing the middle of such great devastation listening to a sprinkler system. Such an experience makes one understand the extraordinary power of architecture in transforming people’s lives. The next years were some of the most fulfilling for me as a person and an architect.


“Here I am, standing the middle of such great devastation listening to a sprinkler system.�


defining moment #3 I met David Mandl in 1995 and we formed a partnership—Meltzer/Mandl Architects, P.C. We went on to build a major architectural firm in NY that focused completely on multifamily housing of all types. I still continued to design affordable housing projects, rehab and new construction, in all of the boroughs, including Manhattan, while we started to look for opportunities for new buildings in the “fringe” neighborhoods-mainly in Brooklyn. I felt that my philosophy and design skills were valuable in providing significant architecture in those communities. I wanted to show that innovative architecture can be built within certain budget restraints, contrary to the popular developer thinking at that time. David ran the business and was responsible for all of our DOB work, and he was brilliant at it. When we designed 45 Wall St. for the Rockrose organization, we were asked to “professionally certify” the drawings to expedite the construction of residential units in Lower Manhattan.

From that moment on, we “professionally certified” every project we did until David’s passing in 2007. David defined what “professional certification” was. We used it as a marketing tool, where we could get our projects through the DOB in record time. This was very attractive to our developers. As a result of our work on 45 Wall St. we were asked to design 50 Murray St for Jim Scanlon and Worldwide Properties. Both of these significant projects were approximately 650,000 sf office building conversions to residential. 50 Murray was in construction when the World Trade towers, which were two blocks away, went down. Those were sad times! I was also reminded of a project done, during this time, for The Actors Fund of America on the corner of 57th st. and 10th ave that Rosanne Haggerty talked about in her 2016 Ratensky Lecture. I was the architect for that project. Aside from the satisfaction of completing this complicated zoning and architectural project, it was fulfilling for me to work on housing that served such a special population. This was a residential tower that was granted a variance to be built originally, and we then were granted another variance to design as a Community Facility. Only in NYC can such things happen.


“I wanted to show that innovative architecture can be built within certain budget restraints, contrary to the popular developer thinking at that time.”

“I am the best at Architecture, no one does Architecture better than me, believe me” -Marvin H. Meltzer


59 Bleeker St MANHATTAN, NY 45,000 SF 59 BLEEKER ST REALTY LLC

THE CITY AS POETRY


1090 Franklin Ave BRONX, NY 65,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING 1090 FRANKLIN AVE ASSOC. LLC

132 w112th St HARLEM, NY 50,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING SALAMA DEVELOPMENT

MARVIN H. MELTZER


27 Albany Ave BROOKLYN, NY 62,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING BRP COMPANIES

THE CITY AS POETRY


Malcolm Shabazz Court HARLEM, NY 48,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING LOEWEN DEVELOPMENT

Aurum Harlem HARLEM, NY 162,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING LAFAYETTE DEV.

MARVIN H. MELTZER


Gateway Transit Village NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ 630,000 SF BRUNSWICK DEVELOPMENT CORP.

THE CITY AS POETRY


Malcolm Shabazz Court HARLEM, NY 48,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING LOEWEN DEVELOPMENT

Ogden Ave Apartments BRONX, NY 125,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING ATLANTIC DEVELOPMENT CO.

The North Moore MANHATTAN, NY 125,000 SF GREYSTONE & COMPANY

MARVIN H. MELTZER


Bond Street Lofts MANHATTAN, NY 32,000 SF ALCHEMY PROPERTIES

THE CITY AS POETRY


The Greene House BROOKLYN, NY 68,000 SF CARLTON ADELPHI LLC.

Plaza 105 Apartments HARLEM, NY 43,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING BFC PARTNERS

MARVIN H. MELTZER


Clermont Greene BROOKLYN, NY 112,000 SF VANDERBILT MANSION LLC

THE CITY AS POETRY


Sister Thomas Apartments BRONX, NY 114,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING SEBCO

Park Haven BRONX, NY 170,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING THE COMMUNITY BUILDERS

Riverbridge Court HARLEM, NY 70,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING 504-610 W149TH REALTY LLC

MARVIN H. MELTZER


45 Wall St LOWER MANHATTAN, NY 493,000 SF ROCKROSE DEVELOPMENT

THE CITY AS POETRY


50 Murray St LOWER MANHATTAN, NY 672,000 SF WORLDWIDE DEVELOPMENT

Roscoe C. Brown Jr. BRONX, NY 255,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING PHIPPS HOUSES

MARVIN H. MELTZER


Unionport Sagamore BRONX, NY 170,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING ATLANTIC DEVELOPMENT GROUP

THE CITY AS POETRY


The Riverstone BRONX, NY 133,000 SF ARLINGTON SUITES LLC.

Bradhurst Court HARLEM, NY 260,000 SF AFFORDABLE HOUSING THE RELATED COMPANIES

MARVIN H. MELTZER


The Viridian BROOKLYN, NY 173,500 SF GREEN ST DEVELOPMENT LLC

THE CITY AS POETRY


Woodside Greene QUEENS, NY 325,000 SF PIERMONT PROPERTIES

MARVIN H. MELTZER


There it is. Three significant relationships that were keys in helping me realize the 3 goals I had in the 70’s. Design important buildings, play basketball on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and be home with my family in the evenings. It is significant, and fulfilling, to me that I had a successful career that was entirely focused on doing housing of all different types. I worked on projects of a certain size, as a developer and architect, which allowed me to control the architecture, track quality control and be successful in the “business” of architecture. I am proud to have done this in “The Big Apple”. I would love to share what I have learned over the last 45 years with other members of the profession. It shows there are many different journeys one can take on the road to success. I would love to have the opportunity to deliver this message. Thank you for allowing me to present my qualifications as a person and an architect committed to contributing, and improving, the housing fabric in NYC.

MARVIN H. MELTZER, AIA


MARVIN H. MELTZER, AIA

MHM City as Poetry  
MHM City as Poetry  
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