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BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | “Just another day in Battery Park City.” That phrase, for esteemed architect Jordan L. Gruzen, who died on Jan. 27 at 80, connoted that anything could happen in the neighborhood he loved so much.
His wife, Lee Gruzen, talked by phone to Downtown Express about her husband of many decades from her home at the Regatta, a building that his firm designed.
“The ice is here right now, today,” she said, “and I’m thinking, ah, he would have been thrilled.”
Lee remembered immediately the day she went to visit the Regatta with a friend: September 9, 1988. They went up in the building’s construction elevator and saw a boat coming around the bend as the sun shone on the harbor.
“It was unbelievably thrilling,” she said. “And I called Jordan and said you have to come down tonight. And we put an offer on the apartment the following morning.”
At that point, the Gruzens hadn’t even considered selling their apartment Uptown.
“It was just a very dramatic moment,” she said. “We’ve been tied to this place since. Jordan never wanted to leave here. He died here. He didn’t want to die, but he certainly didn’t want to die anywhere else.”
They moved into the neighborhood on the Fourth of July in 1990.
His architectural firm, which has gone through several names and is now called IBI Group-Gruzen Samton, did many buildings in the neighborhood including 22 River Terrace, Tribeca Pointe and Stuyvesant High School.
Lee said he was an early member of Michael Fortenbaugh’s sailing club and “he was in heaven out on the harbor.”
She recalled with laughter how he was a little too free with the tiller of the boat.
“He knew how thrilling it was to be at the helm in the middle of the harbor with all that life around you,” she said. “He killed me because every time we would take guests out they didn’t have a clue what they were doing, he would also give them the tiller. He would sit near them, but it was never near enough for me.”
A generous man who was a glass-half-full type, he enjoyed other people and sharing his neighborhood with others, she said.
“He always expected any experience was going to be a wonderful one,” she said, “and definitely worth taking the risk of engaging in it.”
In addition to the sailing, he was passionate about tennis, skiing — and especially music.
Lee was on the founding board of Lower Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra and she said that Jordan thought the world of Gary Fagin, the orchestra’s director.
“We did a lot of work on behalf of the orchestra,” she said. “I don’t think Jordan missed a concert or an event.”
His love of music began with his mother, Ethel Brof Gruzen, who was a professional opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera House. His father was Barney Sumner Gruzen, an architect. Gruzen was born on April 5, 1934 in Jersey City. He had a bachelor of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master of architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.
His work also connected him to Lower Manhattan as his firm designed the N.Y.P.D. Headquarters at 1 Police Plaza, Southbridge Towers, Chatham Green, Murray Bergtraum High School and Beekman Hospital, now NewYork Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
After Sept. 11, Gruzen was a part of the revitalization effort and his wife said they both felt “engaged and very intimately connected to the rebuilders.” His firm had its offices at 90 West St. but moved after the tragic event.
Gruzen worked on a large number of waterfront projects throughout the city, she said.
“His imagination and his creative energy was very much focused on creating structures and experiences for people so they would really love the life on the water,” she said.
They both shared a love of the water, said Lee. He died as the snowstorm that shut down New York was tapering off and the sun broke through. A tugboat went by underneath their window and gave a toot.
“The harbor [was] beautiful as he would have noticed it and as we noticed it that moment,” she said. “We had how many years — 25 years here — to truly love what was happening outside our window.”
Gruzen is survived by Lee, their two daughters Rachel and Georgia, and his son and daughter-in-law, Alex and Karen. His is also survived by his brother Maxson and Alex’s mother, Joan Gruzen and grandchildren, Elsa, Ava, Sonja and Bear.
Donations in Jordan’s memory can be made to the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra.