Mary Merz, Willowtown Activist and Architect, Dies at 85

This in from Ben Bankson, President of the Willowtown Association:

Willowtown architect and activist Mary Merz died on September 15 after a long battle with lung cancer at her home on Willow Place designed by her and her husband Joe, also an architect. She was 85.

A memorial service is expected to be held late in October at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights.

The former Mary Ellen Linberger was a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who began her college studies in liberal arts at Rosary College, now Dominican University, in River Forest, Ill. After two years there she transferred to Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1949. In 1950 she went to Florence, Italy, studying Renaissance art and architecture at the University of Florence for two years with architect and town planner Eduardo Detti followed by her working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tripoli, Libya. In 1955 she came to New York City, where she joined the staff of Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates in Manhattan. She was the firm’s first woman architect. In 1960 she and Joe, a fellow student at Pratt and colleague at Barnes Associates, established their own architectural partnership based in Brooklyn Heights. They worked out of their award-winning home on Willow Place following its completion in 1965.

The Willowtown Association, of which both Mary and Joe were long-standing leaders, dedicated its 2010 Spring Fair to them. In remarks made at the start of the fair, historic preservationist Otis Pratt Pearsall praised the couple for their work to secure Willowtown as “a living, breathing, vibrant community [that] is just about as perfect as it gets, anywhere” and for their “absolutely invaluable service to the cause of preservation.”

Mary and Joe, a native of Queens, were married in 1957 in Manhattan. She is survived by Joe and their four children and their spouses–Juliana Merz and Harry Cushing, Katie Merz and Paul Benney, Amy Merz and Curtis Mathis, and the Rev. John Merz and Tara Anderson–and two grandchildren, Lily and Ruby Mathis. The Mathis family lives in Bellevue, Wash., while all of the other family members are in Brooklyn.

R.I.P., Mary, and our condolences to your family and many friends.

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  • ABC

    This is sad news. We’ll all miss her.

    Thinking of you, Joe.

  • princess

    She was an amazing “breakthrough” female of her time. Rest in peace.