This month, we look back at the life of Bernard Marson, an architect and developer who helped pioneer SoHo’s transition from manufacturing into a neighborhood populated with artists’ live/work lofts. Marson passed away on July 9, 2022 and lived to be 91 years old.
“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 V. Lindsay’s administration, said in recommending him for a fellowship with the American Institute of Architects.-New York Times
By the late 1970s, Marson, already a respected architect, was at the forefront of adapting several former local industrial buildings into live-work spaces. Marson, with other investors, bought the iconic Little Singer Building as well as four other SoHo manufacturing buildings, some of which were being illegally used by artists as as studios and living spaces.
Marson ingeniously discovered a loophole in the zoning resolution which allowed for “studios with accessory living” in manufacturing districts. A protracted legal and administrative conflice between City officials and some landlords seeking to enforce the zoning law and Marson, developers, and artists’ groups calling for zoning variances to allow a broader range of uses. Ultimately, the proliferation of conversions from manufacturing to residential use in SoHo eventually led to new regulations, the establishment of the Loft Board and the authorization of many of the loft apartments that were already occupied.
“This basically legalized what was already happening,” said Peter Samton, an architect and former colleague of Mr. Marson’s. “The unique aspects of [Marson’s] contributions were the melding of architecture and development, which at the time, some 50 years ago, were so uncommon.”-New York Times
Decades later, Marson’s legacy lives on in the SoHo of today; where protected historic building stock is filled with a thriving mixed-use community of residents, artists, offices, and retailers in what was long ago an industrial district.
Photo: Fred R. Conrad, New York Times