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Roberta Brandes Gratz’s book It’s a Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the Fight for a Better New York (Bold Type Books, 2020) looks back at key moments in New York City’s development, starting with the history of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and its role in shaping the city from the Second World War to the present.
The J.M. Kaplan Fund was established in 1945 by Jacob M. Kaplan, and would go on to play a critical role in the city of New York’s cultural and urban life. Kaplan’s long leadership of the Fund (1945-1977) was marked by determined advocacy, including the effort to save Carnegie Hall from destruction, support for institutions like The New School for Social Research and the South Street Seaport Museum, as well as to bolster the cause of union democracy, the arts, and the co-operative movement. Since the 1970s, the Fund has been led by Kaplan’s daughter, Joan K. Davidson, who has led the Fund to its current place as a forceful presence in New York City’s civic life, supporting the Westbeth Artists Housing, Greenmarkets, and more.
Author Roberta Brandes Gratz, an award-winning journalist and urbanist, has been observing and writing about cities–how they grow, fall apart, and recover–for more than 40 years. Her books have explored such topics as the cultural resilience of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the influence of Jane Jacobs’s pioneering philosophies on the recovery of New York City since the 1970s, and other subjects related to urban revitalization. She served on the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for seven years, on the NY Governor’s and Mayor’s Task Force on Planning Manhattan’s West Side Waterfront after the defeat of Westway and the Sustainability Advisory Board for NYC under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gratz was a founder and leader of the award-winning restoration of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, now the Eldridge Street Museum. She is a longtime Trustee of the Preservation League of NYS. In 2002, she collaborated with Jane Jacobs to establish the Center For the Living City.
Brandes Gratz is set to discuss her the book as part of the Preservation League of New York State’s Preservation Book Club on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Roberta will be joined in conversation by Anthony Wood and Amy Freitag.
Anthony C. Wood is a preservation activist, writer, teacher, historian, grants maker and philanthropic advisor. He is the author of Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks (Routledge, 2008) and co-organizer of Preservation Vision (2009) and the Fitch Forum on Preservation Law (2011).
Amy Freitag is Executive Director of The J.M. Kaplan Fund and has led the Fund’s grantmaking since 2014. Her tenure has included three rounds of The J.M.K. Innovation Prize (which she conceived in 2014), grants in criminal justice reform, climate, democracy, and conservation of some of the world’s most important places including Civil Rights era sites in Alabama’s Blackbelt.
This event is free and open to the public. This virtual program will be held via Zoom. For more information or to register, click here.
Book Purchases made through this Amazon link support the New York Almanack’s mission to report new publications relevant to New York State.