September 30, 2008
Margot Gayle, Urban Preservationist and Crusader With Style, Dies at 100
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Margot Gayle, who marshaled shrewdness, gentility and spunk to save the Victorian cast-iron buildings of New York — using a little magnet as a demonstration device — in a crusade that led to the preservation of historic SoHo, died Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 100.
The death was announced by her daughter Carol.
Ms. Gayle began her mission in the late 1950s, when a group of neighbors gathered in her Greenwich Village apartment to plot how to save the Victorian-Gothic curiosity that was the Jefferson Market Courthouse around the corner.
A half-century later, not only was the courthouse preserved (as a library), but so were scores of iron-framed buildings, Bishop’s Crook lampposts, stately public clocks and many other wisps of a past that Ms. Gayle had deemed worth keeping.
“Why not let people in the future enjoy some of the things we thought were extremely fine?” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1998.
Ms. Gayle’s crowning achievement was helping to win the establishment of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, encompassing 26 blocks in what was originally an industrial quarter known as Hell’s Hundred Acres. The designation not only preserved important buildings and artifacts, it also saved SoHo from the kind of large-scale urban renewal that occurred north of Houston Street.
“It would be hard to find a district that was so single-mindedly engineered and promoted as that district was by Margot,” Harmon H. Goldstone, a former chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in an interview with The Times in 1988.
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