In Memoriam: Frank Gilbert (1930-2022)
December 1, 2022
By Benjamin Baccash
I had the privilege of interviewing Frank Gilbert on behalf of the Archive Project in May of 2011. Traveling to Chevy Chase, Maryland, I met Frank at his home and, across two full days, discussed his storied career and contributions to the preservation field and civic arena. I was saddened to learn of his passing earlier this year, but thankful that I was able to meet him and, on occasion, have lunch at the Harvard Club when he came to New York City. Ten years later, I periodically recall our discussions fondly and ponder what Frank might think of certain current happenings and events.
Frank Brandeis Gilbert was born in 1930 in Manhattan. Both of his parents were attorneys, and his grandfather was the esteemed Louis D. Brandeis, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United State. A graduate of Harvard, where he received bachelor’s and law degrees, Gilbert’s career included positions at the Public Housing Administration in Washington, DC; the City Planning Department and then Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in New York City; and eventually the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Gilbert’s career evolved from lobbying on behalf of the City of New York in Albany, to playing an instrumental role in drafting the New York City Landmarks Law and then navigating the LPC through uncharted legal territory in its early years. Eventually, Gilbert went on to share his expertise by assisting other towns and municipalities across the United States in creating and administering their own historic preservation ordinances.
Through his work at the National Trust, Gilbert leveraged his experience creating and administering the nascent New York City Landmarks Law to benefit countless locales across the country. His career serves as a reminder of the importance of collaboration and sharing experience with others working toward a common goal. His persona shines through in this tidbit from a conversation with representatives of The Plaza Hotel before its designation in 1969; when asked why the Commission believed the building was a landmark, Gilbert replied, “I’ve read your advertising!”.
From 2011-2012, Baccash conducted oral histories for the New York Preservation Archive Project. Today, Ben serves as Vice President of Development at Taconic Partners, a real estate company focused on repositioning and development of existing and new buildings, primarily in New York City.