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Giorgio Cavaglieri

Giorgio Cavaglieri

Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri was engaged in various preservation battles in New York, including the campaign to reuse the Jefferson Market Courthouse.

Organizations: American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Fine Arts Federation, Municipal Art Society, National Institute of Architectural Education, New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Victorian Society in America
Above: Jefferson Market Courthouse, 1905; Courtesy of the Detroit Publishing Co.

Giorgio Cavaglieri, architect and preservation activist, was born on August 11, 1911 in Venice, Italy. As a young man, he attended Milan Polytecnico, where he studied architecture and engineering. He graduated magna cum laude in 1932. Cavaglieri fought for Mussolini in the Ethiopian War, and he utilized his talent to design airfields for the Italian army. However, in 1938, when Mussolini stripped Jews of their citizenship rights, he left Italy for America. In the United States, his status was technically that of “an Alien enemy,” nevertheless, he was able to join the U.S. army, and fought from Normandy to Berlin during World War II. He was awarded the bronze star in recognition of his wartime efforts.1

After World War II, he worked as an associate to Rosario Candela, the renowned designer of luxury Manhattan apartment buildings. He soon married Norma Sanford, and by the 1950s he established his own architecture firm.2 He designed the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and converted the Astor Library at 425 Lafayette Street into the Joseph Papp Public Theater.3

Cavaglieri’s influence in the preservation movement in New York City can be attributed to his architectural renovations of historic structures, which illustrated that historic buildings could be used for both new functions and revitalizing communities.4

He became deeply involved in New York’s preservation battles including both Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal, and he served in leadership positions for several related societies such as the Municipal Art Society. He was most successful for restoring historic buildings for adaptive reuse, including the Jefferson Market Library. He died on May 15, 2007 at the age of 95, after a lifetime of activism.5

Municipal Art Society
President, 1963-1966

National Institute of Architectural Education
Chairman

New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
President

Victorian Society in America
President, 1973

Giorgio Cavaglieri is lauded as New York's first architectural preservationist.6 By the 1950s he was recognized for his adeptness at adapting historic structures. By then he had completed several commissions altering older apartment and office buildings. As part of the Greenwich Village campaign to save the historic Jefferson Market Courthouse, preservationist Margot Gayle appealed to Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. and asserted that Cavaglieri could easily turn the building into a beautiful community library. Wagner's acceptance of the proposal was a true testament to Cavaglieri's reputation as a skilled architect of adaptive reuse.7

Cavaglieri's adaptive reuse of the Jefferson Market Courthouse was an incredibly involved endeavor. He began with four years of preliminary study, then integrated modern library facilities, such as air conditioning, elevators, and furniture. He documented the original building in order to ensure that the stained glass windows and black walnut doors would be restored accurately. However, all of the new features that he added to improve the structure were contemporary and modern in style.8

Cavaglieri served as president of the Municipal Art Society from 1963 to 1966, during which time New York City’s landmarks legislation was being "introduced, debated, adopted and implemented."9 As president of the Municipal Art Society, Cavaglieri convinced the Society to create a task force to mobilize support for the bill, and this effort involved reaching out to 43 civic groups, including the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.10

Cavaglieri also engaged in various preservation battles in New York. In 1964, he joined the effort to save Penn Station.11 In addition, he was an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Grand Central Terminal, as well as the Morgan House on Madison Avenue. Furthermore, he vehemently opposed the addition of cafes in Central Park.12 Though Cavaglieri advocated for preserving historic architecture, he did not always support the notion of landmark designation, an increasingly important factor in the changing preservation movement. For instance, he strongly opposed landmark designation for the Upper East Side Historic District, because he believed that the commercial buildings within the parameters of that district were in need of renovation, and landmark status would make the necessary changes impossible.13

Cavaglieri remained active in the Municipal Art Society and Fine Arts Federation well into his 90s. He held the position of Chairman of the National Institute of Architectural Education and President of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In 2002, the New York Landmarks Conservancy awarded Cavaglieri the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Leadership Award, in recognition of his achievements in preservation.14

  • Giorgio Cavaglieri Drawings & Archives
    Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
    Columbia University
    1172 Amsterdam Avenue
    New York, NY 10027
    Tel: (212) 854-4110
    Email: [email protected]

    Interview with Giorgio Cavaglieri By Charles Hosmer, Jr., 23 June 1982, Under the Auspices of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association. Copyright 1991: The University of Maryland at College Park

  • Oral History with Giorgio Cavaglieri
  • New York Preservation Archive Project
  • 174 East 80th Street
  • New York, NY 10075
  • Tel: (212) 988-8379
  • Email: [email protected]
  1. 
Ed Gold, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, 95, Made Old Jeff into a library,” Villager; 30 May-5 June 2007.
  2. 
Ibid.
  3. 
Tracy Ostroff, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, 95, Preservation Architect,” AIA: AIArchitect: Volume 14: The News Of America’s Community Of Architects. Article retrieved 8 March 2016 
  4. 
Vicki Weiner, “Giorgio Cavaglieri,” Architect’s Newspaper, 8 June 2007.
  5. 
Ibid.
  6. 
Ed Gold, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, 95, Made Old Jeff into a Library,” Villager, 30 May-5 June 2007.
  7. 
Vicki Weiner, “Giorgio Cavaglieri,” Architect’s Newspaper, 8 June 2007.
  8. 
Douglas Martin, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, Urban Preservationist, Dies at 95,”The New York Times, 18 May 2007.
  9. 
Vicki Weiner, “Giorgio Cavaglieri,” Architect’s Newspaper, 8 June 2007.
  10. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 340.
  11. Interview with Giorgio Cavaglieri By Charles Hosmer, Jr., 23 June 1982, Under the Auspices of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association. Copyright 1991: The University of Maryland at College Park.
  12. 
Ed Gold, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, 95, Made Old Jeff into a Library,” Villager, 30 May-5 June 2007.
  13. 
Vicki Weiner, “Giorgio Cavaglieri,” Architect’s Newspaper, 8 June 2007.
  14. Douglas Martin, “Giorgio Cavaglieri, Urban Preservationist, Dies at 95,” The New York Times, 18 May 2007.