Yesterday, American architect and urban planning visionary Frederic Schwartz died at the age of 63 after a long battle with cancer. Fred’s work took him all over the world: When I first met him, he was designing airport terminals in Asia and schools in Africa and memorials in New York and, of course, redevelopment plans in New Orleans. Although he was first introduced to those of us in Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he was already, by that point, a “starchitect” himself, a label I am sure he would have never been comfortable with. Regardless, he certainly earned his place in the pantheon of America’s greatest architects, and as this lovely obituary notes, more than an architect, Fred was a “public citizen.”
I first met Fred six years ago. Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, Daniel Smith, and I published and advertised a Request for Proposals for a streetscape project in Lower Third, and Fred’s team responded. Later, he told us that, at first, he assumed the project was in Alexandria, Virginia; I’m not sure he’d even heard of Alexandria, Louisiana. But he was undeterred. He understood our vision, and he wanted to join our team. Eventually, he was hired on another project, the North MacArthur project, and I had the great fortune of spending many hours and attending countless community planning and stakeholder meetings with him.
Fred was extraordinarily kind and empathetic. He had an eye for the things that make Alexandria unique and exceptional. He often asked me if I could find out how he could buy and save the iconic Hocus Pocus marquee on Lee Street. He loved Bringhurst Field, and I’m sure if he were alive today, he would be encouraging locals to save the historic park. He claimed that the best BBQ meal he’d ever had in his life was at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Lower Third. After I took him for crawfish at Robby G’s, he wanted to return every time he came to town. He got Alexandria. He became quick and close friends with Councilman Harry Silver, who, he said, reminded him of his own father, and Councilman Silver loved him too. When Councilman Silver fell a couple of years ago and hurt his hip, I called Fred in his office in New York; Fred was on the phone with Harry’s family within minutes. He was loyal and caring, and he wasn’t working in Alexandria because of the money; he believed in Alexandria’s leadership and their belief in creating a more equitable and more modern infrastructure for all of her people.
In the last three years, since I’ve been in law school, Fred and I continued to correspond. He actually wrote a letter of recommendation for me for law school. This man loved Louisiana; he loved Alexandria; he loved me, and I loved him. New York was his home, but if we could have, Louisiana would have sued for joint custody.
Thank you Fred. Rest in peace, my friend.