Architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who died on January 7, requested that no memorial service be held for her. On June 4, a couple of hundred of her friends and colleagues—including Richard Meier, Robert A.M. Stern, Henry Cobb, Kevin Roche, Annabelle Selldorf, Hugh Hardy, Jaquelin Robertson, Alex Cooper, and Deborah Berke—disobeyed her wishes and gathered at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to honor her and her remarkable career. (Record, February 2013, page 26 and online at Tributes to Ada Louise Huxtable and Champion of New and Old.)
Robert Shapiro, board president of the Peabody Essex Museum and Huxtable’s lawyer, spoke of her deep conviction that “there was an American style” and that it was “based on authenticity.” A frequent visitor at Huxtable’s second home in Marblehead, Mass., Shapiro said, “She had no ‘off’ switch for her keen skills of observation.”
Paul Goldberger, who succeeded Huxtable as the architecture critic at The New York Times, stated that, “We are all in a sense her progeny.” While Shapiro spoke of Huxtable’s love of Marblehead and the simple, direct buildings she found there, Goldberger emphasized her connection to New York City. “She identified with New York as much as any writer of her day, and she continually pushed it to be better.”
Huxtable’s impact on later generations of critics was discussed by Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times. “The fierce authenticity of her work” continues to speak to everyone who writes and thinks about architecture,” he said. Noting that her archive will reside at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Hawthorne said, “Her influence, which is so strong in New York, is poised to extend through space and time.”
In a recorded message, author and storyteller Garrison Keillor noted that, “Ada Louise was a writer who got into arguments with buildings. In New York, you see people doing that on the street. But she got paid for it.” “She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and spent a lot of time at the New York Public Library, Grand Central, and the old Penn Station. Although she embraced modernism, she saw those old buildings as family.”
James Cuno, president and CEO of The J. Paul Getty Trust, recalled her “essential” role as a member of the Getty’s building committee in selecting Richard Meier to design the Getty Center. He quoted her as saying, “Architecture keeps no secrets.” Referring to her last article—an essay attacking Foster + Partners’ plans to renovate the New York Public Library published in The Wall Street Journal just five weeks before she died—Cuno said, “She stood by her convictions until she breathed no more.”
The only architect on the program, Frank Gehry told the audience that he was “under the radar” for Huxtable for many years. “Although I wished for her attention, I also feared it.” When she finally did start writing about his work, “She was critical but encouraging,” he said.
Hawthorne noted that it was odd that no women were asked to speak at the tribute. Huxtable never thought of herself as a feminist, he noted, but she served as an important role model for writers such as Record’s editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan, Inga Saffron, Julie Iovine, and Alexandra Lange. The program ended with clips of television interviews of Huxtable by Charlie Rose, so the master critic herself got the last word. As people filed out of the museum, many wondered why Huxtable’s archive is going to the Getty, 3,000 miles from New York City. Yale had reportedly wanted it and Columbia’s Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library would seem like another logical home for the material.
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