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Abraham Rogatnick, a unique force in Vancouver, dies

August 30th, 2009 · 5 Comments

As a few blogs around town are reporting  (Alex Waterhouse-Hayward and city caucus) and I’ve been hearing from others, Abraham Rogatnick died Friday. Bruce Grierson did a piece for Vancouver magazine last year that described the deep impact this professor, historian and urbanist has had on the city, which you can read here.

Better than anything I could say, especially since I only knew Abraham in his last years through his involvement in civic politics. It’s a sign of his eclecticism that he befriended and supported two very different men at different times — Jim Green and Sam Sullivan — in his quest to find people who could make Vancouver a better place.

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  • Dr Charles Barber

    I first met Abraham just over three years ago, when I phoned to ask his support for the Pantages Theatre Project. He was immediately fascinated, all-hearted, and intrigued by its prospects. Things took off from there.

    On the morning of 6 January 2008, he phoned me at home to offer “congratulations” on the 100th anniversary of the opening of that extraordinary theatre, and to offer a gift: $1 million toward its Endowment. I was stunned, and pledged to secrecy.

    For a variety of sad political excuses (a demand for ‘rigor’ that was merely an excuse for rigor mortis), the Pantages Project has failed. But none of us will ever forget Abraham’s insight, instincts and canny intelligence about what it could have meant to our city.

    Awhile back I chauffeured him to the Arthur Erickson memorial up at SFU. He gave the keynote address, and after — you can’t imagine. Multiple dozens of long-ago students, colleagues, friends came up to him in a vortex that only ended when it was time to take him to a dinner with Cornelia Oberlander, Geoff Massey, Moshe Safdie and even more friends and colleagues. What a galaxy he lived in.

    As time passed, he and I became good friends. In the last few weeks, as his energy fled, his mind never did. I took to phoning for an hour or two, every day or two, and tried (but failed) to keep up with his restless curiosity.

    I last saw him at the hospital, and was able to show him photos of a trip my friend and I took, two weeks ago, to the Badlands. He seemed amazed by jpegs, and asked a hundred questions about hoodoos, and much more.

    Abraham’s name should be remembered. His gifts to our city should be honoured. Above all, the force of intellect and taste and personality that he brought to bear on everything he touched should be held close, for a long time.

    This was an original and authentic man.

  • alessandro palanza and martina mazzariol

    We will write later, (after we really understandfrom so far away that a such lively and allways surviving person is really dead ) our personal comment on the poliedric and wide personality of Abraham, who was one of the best friends of Martina’s father and after his death a very close part of our family, becoming also a very influential personality on our cultural approach to the world and on our personal styles of life even so far away . For now we would like to make known (in italian) the announcement we published today in two main newspapers in Venice (Italy) (Il Gazzettino and La Nuova Venezia) :
    Emma e Martina Mazzariol con Sandro e Norah e Attilia Dorigato ricordano ai veneziani che lo conobbero la figura del professor
    Abraham Rogatnick,

    morto a Vancouver il 28 agosto 2009 all’età di 86 anni, per decenni professore di storia dell’architettura presso la Università British Columbia di Vancouver e tra i maggiori esperti di storia dell’architettura veneziana di oltre oceano, personalità di grande cultura e di spirito vivacissimo e trascinante fino all’ultimo istante della sua vita, grande oratore, grande viaggiatore e infine attore di teatro; amico di tutta la vita di Bepi Mazzariol e rimasto, nei vent’anni trascorsi dalla sua morte, parte della nostra famiglia.

    Li ricorderemo insieme sabato 5 settembre alle ore 11 presso la Chiesa di San Sebastiano nel ventesimo anniversario della morte di Bepi Mazzariol.

  • eleanor

    I was an Architectural History student of Abraham Rogatnick’s at UBC in 1984 . I recall being spellbound by his astonishing slide images, captivating voice, and irrepressible passion for his subject. By far the most erudite professor in the place, but with a generous, accessible style. He was ageless and unforgettable.

  • I was very saddened to learn about Abe’s passing. He was truly a remarkable person and to my mind, someone who lived each day as if it were his last. He was a regular participant at a variety of civic events, and although he always seemed so frail, he was a very vital person with a brilliant inquisitive mind.

    I have decided to write this comment since one of his most recent interests was a desire to promote greater public discussion about urban issues in the city. He told me he wanted to make a substantial financial contribution to an appropriate entity and was talking to a variety of individuals and institutions to determine what might be the most effective way to make this happen.

    I just hope that somehow his dream will be realized. While we have some organizations in the city which promote discussion on important planning issues, The City Program at SFU, ThinkCity, the Vancouver City Planning Commission and the somewhat dormant Urbanarium Society all come to mind, as evidenced by the discussions that often take place on this blog, there seems to be a hunger in our city for a suitable forum to discuss important architectural and planning issues.

    I hope that Abe’s passing will not stop the discussion on how best to promote such public and professional dialogue. On the contrary, I would like to see some institution or event, bearing his name, (although he didn’t particularly want this) to celebrate the memory of his wonderful life, his contribution to our city, and his desire for a more passionate dialogue on art, architecture, planning and design.

    Thanks Abe, for all you did for so many of us.

  • Frances Bula

    Brent Toderian is in London and having trouble posting to my blog from there for some reason so he asked me to put up this note for Abraham:

    Hi Frances, thanks for writing this post – I’ll leave it to others who knew Abe well to say more, and I hope they do, but here’s the comment I posted on another blog.

    I read about Abe’s passing with sadness while “cheating” during my holidays, and checking up on the Vancouver blogs. Abe was a great teacher and inspiration to many at city hall, including generations in the planning department. Although I hadn’t had the chance to get to know Abe in my first few years here, that was something we were just working to change, starting in the last several months with a long and enthusiastic lunch-time volume about city patterns, building scales and types, whether Vancouver needs a central square, what to do about a new Vancouver Art Gallery, great density through great design, etc, etc, etc. It was a fun, whirlwind of a chat, and it was to be the first of many. As with life too often, we assume we have more time than we have. I very much regret that I and other “newer” people at city hall won’t have more opportunities to enjoy Abe’s passion, intelligence and good nature. But on behalf of us newer arrivals, thank you to Abe for his tremendous contributions to the city, and deep condolences to his family and long-time friends.

    Brent Toderian
    Director of Planning