City planner Larry Reich dies at 75

September 19, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

Larry Reich, Baltimore's chief planner under five mayors and throughout the city's golden age of redevelopment, died Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital of heart failure. He was 75.

Mr. Reich never stopped thinking about the city, even after he retired in 1990.

"He continued to come forward with ideas about how the city could be improved," said Robert C. Embry Jr., head of the A. S. Abell Foundation, who was housing commissioner during part of Mr. Reich's 25-year tenure in the planning department.

As director of planning, he was respected for resisting overdevelopment and esteemed for insisting on neighborhood involvement in the planning process.

He rejected any suggestion that "planners could come down from on high and say, 'This is the way it will be done and you unwashed masses have to listen,' " said his nephew, Brian Sullam, an editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun

"The worst part of his career was during the Reagan administration when the idea was to give up on cities. He thought cities were the cradle of civilization, and for the national government to give up on cities hurt him incredibly," Mr. Sullam said.

Mr. Reich's concerns went beyond the strict boundaries of his job, according to William Boucher III, former executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a partner with the city in downtown redevelopment.

"He was often in the forefront of issues that were important to the city like the civil rights movement, low-income housing and environmental issues," Mr. Boucher said.

He was hired for the Baltimore job in 1965 by David Barton, then head of the city's Planning Commission.

"I always found that intellectually he was sounder than anyone I met in the planning field," Mr. Barton said. "And he was never strident. He never got excited. He had a way of enduring. His best trait was his knack for getting along with people.

"We had a public meeting every two weeks, and there were all kinds of personalities and people challenging the law and the theory and the validity of a plan. He could explain things in a way that calmed nerves. It's a valuable trait in a democracy," Mr. Barton said.

Born in Monticello, N.Y., Mr. Reich graduated from Monticello High School and moved to New York City, where he attended New York University and studied architecture at night. During the day he worked in a shipyard.

During World War II, he served with the 312th Combat Engineers, which was part of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army. Mr. Reich fought during the Battle of the Bulge.

He seldom spoke of his military service, with a singular exception.

On leave in Paris he found himself standing next to a woman he thought he recognized. "You're Gertrude Stein, aren't you?" he said.

"Yes," said Ms. Stein, the famous American writer.

"You know, I came here hoping to see some art and all the museums are closed," Mr. Reich lamented.

To which Ms. Stein replied, "Well, why don't we go see Pablo?"

Mr. Reich spent the afternoon in a storage warehouse with the famed artist Pablo Picasso, a large array of Picasso's paintings and Ms. Stein.

After the war he went to Harvard University, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in urban planning.

His first job was with the city of Milwaukee in its planning department, where he worked from 1948 to 1950. He moved to Knoxville, Tenn., becoming a planner for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In 1952 he joined IBEC Corp., a subsidiary of an organization designed to help underdeveloped countries build their economies. From 1952 to 1954, Mr. Reich worked in El Salvador, restoring and upgrading the town of San Miguel.

From there, he went to Philadelphia, taking a job in the city planning department. He left Philadelphia in 1959 and became assistant commissioner of planning in Chicago. He worked on a number of projects there, including an extensive downtown development plan.

He came to Baltimore in 1965, recruited by then-Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, among others. He became the director of planning and held that title until he retired in 1990. He was a resident of Bolton Hill.

During the city's development boom of the 1980s, Mr. Reich was not afraid to speak his mind. He and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had a notable and public disagreement over the new IBM Building at the Inner Harbor, which Mr. Reich opposed because its upper floors, approved after height restrictions were waived, would obscure views of the harbor.

In 1943, Mr. Reich married Edith Topkins, who survives him along with two daughters, Stephanie Reich of Washington and Jeremy Reich Egan of Baltimore; a brother, Murray Reich of Stamford, Conn.; a sister, Fredda Sullam of Honolulu; and a grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at the Bolton Street Synagogue, 1311 Bolton St.

The family suggested memorial donations to Legal Services Corp., or the Baltimore Architectural Foundation.

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