Arthur Rosenblatt, one of the world’s leading authorities on museum architecture and the founding director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died this week in New York of cancer. He was 73.
Rosenblatt, a former New York City deputy commissioner of parks, joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968 as vice president and vice-director for architecture, eventually overseeing the largest expansion in the famed museum’s history. The museum’s former director, Thomas Hoving, has written that Rosenblatt was a pivotal figure in the success of its transformation, which made it one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
After more than 19 years at the Metropolitan, Rosenblatt moved to Washington to become the founding director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was responsible for the selection of the museum’s architect, James Ingo Freed, and for initiating the design process for the award-winning institution.
Rosenblatt later returned to New York, where he was involved in a series of acclaimed urban renewal projects, including the restoration of Bryant Park and the adjoining New York Public Library. In 1995 he became a founding partner in RKK&G Museum and Cultural Facilities Consultants, overseeing such projects as the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, the restoration of the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue and the development of a Jewish cultural center in the Polish city of Oswiecim, or Auschwitz. The firm also developed the Hechal Shlomo Museum of Jewish Art and History in Jerusalem.
Rosenblatt was born in 1931 in the Bronx, the second son of poor Russian immigrants. His father, a tailor, had fought in the British Army’s Jewish Legion in World War I. Raised in Brooklyn, Rosenblatt traveled the subways to teach himself art in the city’s museums. He received his bachelor’s degree at Cooper Union in 1952 and his architecture degree in 1956 from Carnegie Technical Institute, now Carnegie Mellon University.
Devoted to his roots, he helped organize an exhibition at the Architectural League in 1966 for his high school art teacher, and later taught a course to architecture students, most of them children of immigrants like himself, at the City College of New York.
He received an appointment by then-President Clinton to the National Museum Service Board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and was the recipient of the 1998 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture from The American Institute of Architects. His book, “Building Type Basics for Museums,” was published by Wiley in 2000. He also contributed to a 2004 book on museum security, and co-authored two books on show tunes with his wife, Ruth Benjamin.
Surviving Rosenblatt are his wife, Ruth Benjamin, a writer, daughter Judy Rosenblatt, a social worker, son Paul Rosenblatt, an architect, and two grandchildren.