Paul Oberman dies: A great friend of historic preservation

He was redeveloping the historic block on Market Street across from St. Lawrence Market. Comments from Lloyd Alter President of Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and Edward Nixon, President Old Town Toronto

By Lloyd Alter/Edward Nixon –

Famed developer Paul Oberman who specialized in preserving historic architecture, killed in a tragic air crash

Famed developer Paul Oberman who specialized in preserving historic architecture, killed in a tragic air crash

By Lloyd Alter

Paul was killed the night of March 7, while flying from Halifax to Quebec City.

It was an honour last fall to stand with Paul Oberman as the ACO gave him an award for his tireless work trying to save the hangars at Downsview Airport. In fact, whenever there was a heritage issue during my time as President, I would consult with Paul. He had a real vision of heritage, and spared no expense to do it right. His projects are the background for almost every heritage image of Toronto; I used to joke with him that if he had a nickel for every tourist postcard shot of the Flatiron Building, he would be a rich man.

I last saw Paul when we appeared together on the Goldhawk TV show, discussing the Empress/ Edison hotel fire. Paul was full of ideas about how to make heritage economically viable, how to change the tax structure and create incentives. He was always full of ideas and suggestions, always willing to help, always willing to give advice.

During the Downsview battle we talked and texted all day long, as he flew his plane from Ottawa to Florida to wherever he had to go to get to the decision-makers. It was so exciting, our early morning rendez-vous at Downsview to see if the equipment was moving, to plot our actions for the day. He was so full of energy and enthusiasm and knowledge; we had plans for changing the tax system for heritage, for taking all the knowledge that Woodcliffe had about heritage renovation and documenting it. I don’t know how we will do this without him.

Paul recently wrote an article for Teknion’s Design is Intelligence Made Visible. I will leave the last words to him:

“Historic buildings integrating old and new are, for me, the lifeblood of a city. If we don’t care about renewing our historic buildings, if we don’t care about preserving them by finding new uses for them, what will we care about? How will we create a vibrant urban environment consisting of exciting and remarkable built forms if we turn our backs on the great achievements- and even the mere survivals- of our past? If we don’t value our heritage, how will we create anything of value in the future? A desirable future, I submit, is tied to our past.”

A condolence page has been set up on Facebook, or you can leave a comment here on the blog.

By Edward Nixon

I have just received a call from Woodcliffe Properties advising that Paul Oberman, the company president, was killed in a plane crash flying over Maine last night. He and another pilot were flying a private plane and ran into an ice storm.
Paul’s loss is tragic for his family, for Toronto, and for the heritage community of Toronto and Ontario.

As a developer, Paul came to nationwide attention for his restoration of the Summerhill station as an LCBO store. He wanted Toronto to be a beautiful city, and led by example.

He was a friend to so many and found time to help advance the cause of both preserving Toronto’s beautiful properties and making sure that new development was of a high standard. He was also involved in development in other countries. Positive, always ready to advise, he shared his knowledge with so many others.

Last year he went to extraordinary lengths to try to save the Downsview hangars from demolition, making it an issue that reached the country’s highest offices.

He was highly successful in his development activities, using heritage buildings as the anchors for larger developments. He shared his success with others as a very generous supporter of Heritage Toronto, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, and Built Heritage News. He was a member of the ACO’s President’s Circle. He donated money to support urban design students at University of Toronto.

He was a man like no other, energetic, smart, cultured, successful in business and family, a proud father. His attention to detail in his projects and in all aspects of his life inspired.

He leaves huge holes in so many networks, holes that just cannot be filled.