Joan Davidson, an extraordinary woman and champion of New York City and New York State died this past Friday. A fearless leader in historic preservation, urban life and plain old liberal causes, Joan was one of the last of those who could rightly be referred to as a grande dame.
Joan was elected to the Municipal Art Society’s Board of Directors in May 1968 and served until 2013. She then served as a Director Emeritus until her death. Her involved, vocal, and spirited support of MAS’s work over more than 55 years was breathtakingly visionary.
But Joan’s support for MAS began in the 1960’s when she persuaded her father who was then president of the J.M. Kaplan Fund to support MAS’s early involvement with the South Street Seaport to develop a plan and to create a beautiful model of what the Seaport could look like.
As president of the J.M. Kaplan Fund beginning in 1977, Joan’s willingness and ability to take chances to make things happen fueled grants from the Fund that supported many MAS projects at that time. Her support as President Emeritus of the Fund never wavered.
Joan threw her support behind a multitude of MAS programs and projects, including the publication of the Juror’s Guide to Lower Manhattan in 1983; the creation of the endowment funds for the Ralph C. Menapace Fellowship in Urban Land Use Law in 1984 and the Brendan Gill Prize in 1986. In recent years she supported MAS’s work in Brownsville and the legal battle around the alienation of the Marx Brothers Playground in Yorkville.
But, perhaps Joan’s most crucial involvement with MAS was around the creation of Urban Center Books, a cornerstone of MAS’s longtime offices in the historic Villard Houses and a treasured center of social gatherings and discovery during MAS’s nearly 30 years at that location.
Her ideas as to what the Fund should support and her no-nonsense attitude about getting things done led to a series of remarkable successes. Of course, the fact that she knew everyone from the Statehouse to City Hall to the head of the smallest nonprofit made her a force to be reckoned with. Her loyal, guiding spirit and gracious style will be missed.
Banner Image: Historic building in NYC. Image Credit – Hans Isaacson