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S.M.a.r.t: Ron Goldman Eulogy

On September 28, Ron Goldman passed away at the age of 84. A founding member of S.M.a.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow), many of the early S.M.a.r.t meetings were held at Ron and Barbara’s beautiful home on Montana Avenue. S.M.a.r.t and its friends assembled this eulogy that explains why he was so respected and beloved:   

I lost a good friend, one that I had since the 70s.  

Ron was a talented architect and city planner. Besides managing the work of his successful architectural firm, he was the founding member of the SMa.r.t. group, whose purpose was to help guide and maintain the character of our beachfront City through writing and by direct contact in order to influence citizens and policymakers alike.

The City of Santa Monica has lost a passionate advocate for moderate, well-designed urban growth. Ron was tireless in his push to maintain the low scale of our community. He was an advocate of increased setbacks to allow for more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and more variegated architectural expressions in all new developments.

He was always pushing for more open space and had developed a concept whereby our City and others in more disadvantaged communities could create vest-pocket parks to make their residential areas more family-friendly. He was proposing this for the City of Compton as a pilot that others might emulate.

SAM TOLKIN (Planning Commissioner):

” A good number of years ago now, I was reading a Santa Monica paper and came across a column that spoke to me. The author had a vision of a city that was planned to ensure a quality of life that would address the challenges of the future while preserving a human scale for its residents. The author of that piece was Ron Goldman. I sent him a note and thanked him for that piece. He invited me to a meeting. I lived too far away.

“Years later, Covid brought us Zoom meetings, and I was able to sit in on a few of those meetings that have produced a weekly column for almost a decade. Ron was the author of many of them. His pieces had a continuity of thought: Development is inevitable – he was, after all, an architect.  Development doesn’t need to destroy a city. A Master Plan – that pulls all the plans together in one cohesive document that informs and guides decision-making – should be the foundation for Santa Monica’s future.

“Thank you, Ron. Thank you for your gentle – sometimes not so gentle – insistence to move toward that vision. Thank you for your commitment to using your art of architecture to inform the discussion.  Thank you for your many columns that sang to me. And thank you for your stupid, silly jokes.”

CHERYL RHODEN (Co-Founder SMRR and SM City Council 1979-1981)

Ron was passionate about creating an enjoyable, livable, and functional Santa Monica.  He saw the potential to accommodate and improve the city in multiple ways.  He never tired of proposing ideas that were innovative and sought to work with the built environment to achieve improvements rather than counterproductively assume its dismantling.  Above all he loved his city and the potential it held for future generations.  He knew that the current rules-free development environment was corrosive.  As such, he never acknowledged that what we are living through now had the power to determine our future.  Only we can give life to that realization.  He will be greatly missed.

MARC VERVILLE (SM Audit Committee):

Ron was an incredibly sweet, talented, generous, and genuine person who never stopped trying to make a difference in the world.  One of his most recent projects was getting creative about ways to insert green space and parks into underparked Los Angeles neighborhoods like Compton.

In his own words……

“I’ve been developing an alternative neighborhood parks program that closes side streets within neighborhoods but doesn’t affect residential or emergency access. I’ve been working in Compton with a plan that works in every residential neighborhood throughout the country. I had talked with Rick Cole about this for S.M., and he was quite enthusiastic, but I was focused on Compton at the time. In talking with Phil, his response the city can’t afford it – but with the existing “recreational brutality”/lack of useable park space, the city needs to find a way. Financing, either privately or publicly, will not be an issue.

If you feel this program is appropriate for Santa Monica and meets your needs, I’d be happy to meet over a cup of coffee and see if this is something you would want to be involved with – with my help and guidance – as my time is largely taken up in Compton and elsewhere, along with health issues. It’s a program that is extremely time and cost-effective compared to current park projects.

One, or preferably two parks (an active & a passive park) could be completed from initial conception to completion in 15-18 months for $400,000 (1 park) or preferably $800,000 (2 parks), including neighborhood meetings, design, permitting, and construction.”

ANN BOWMAN HOOVER (Parks Commissioner):

I did not know Ron for very long, but in the time that I shared his company in our group, he touched our lives in a particular and profound way. Ron struck me as a genuinely good soul, passionate about his work, and devoted to bettering our city’s direction.

He shared and committed a big part of his life to a common desire to make our city a better place and to leave a positive mark on the community we all love. He was a force in this endeavor, his dedication unwavering and perhaps even contagious.

What stood out most was his unwavering commitment to his idea of the importance of a master plan. He had a certain vision for planning our city’s future. Many of his ideas were innovative, common-sensical, and practical.

But what also made his presence truly special was not just his passion but his ability to infuse the group with good humor. I would often laugh at the jokes and cartoons he sent us. His sense of humor was sometimes a well-needed breath of fresh air.

His memory serves as a reminder that even in the short time we have on this Earth, we can make a lasting impact through passion, dedication, and the ability to bring light and laughter into the lives of others. 

MICHAEL JOLLY (SMa.r.t.)

Ron Goldman was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects a recipient of more than fifty local, national, and international design awards in a successful design career that spanned almost sixty years.  A private practitioner with an impressive list of commercial and private clients and with seemingly endless energy, Ron was always there to volunteer, pro bono, in an endless number of environmental, planning, and civic design causes. I first met Ron in Malibu about 40 years ago when, with other architects, he helped found The Malibu Architects Group and successfully participated in helping Malibu shed county control and become a city. In the Watts/Compton area of Los Angeles, advocating and contributing his design expertise, once again pro bono, to turn underutilized streets and alleys into pocket parks. Most important to this accomplished professional architect was his commitment to finding solutions that would better the livable environment for all, not just his clients. He was a co-founder of SMa.r.t., and for the past ten years, has participated in writing a weekly column about design and development issues here in Santa Monica, never being silent when he observed the good or the not so good. He was a friend, an architect, a mentor, and a neighbor who cared deeply about his community and the community it serves.  He will be missed but not forgotten.

BOB TAYLOR (SMa.r.t.)

Ron Goldman, who passed away September 28, was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the most honored membership level of the AIA. After graduating from Beverly Hills High, he was educated at Princeton and MIT and was a founding member of S.M.a.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow). His firm, Goldman, Firth & Rossi,  received  more than fifty local, national, and international design awards in a successful design career that spanned almost sixty years.  A private practitioner with an impressive list of commercial and private clients, he designed more than a thousand homes, apartments, condos, and commercial and institutional projects.

In spite of his professional obligations and achievements, with seemingly endless energy, Ron was always there to volunteer, pro bono, in an endless number of environmental, planning, and civic design causes.  Ron was tireless in his push to maintain the low scale of our community and enhance our City with increased setbacks to allow for more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and more diverse architectural expressions in all new developments. With his extensive development experience, he always fought against cheapening a project, saying that “good design is good business.”

 He saw the potential to accommodate growth and improve our city in multiple ways that should be embodied in a community-developed comprehensive City Master Plan.  A master plan would integrate the zoning map, the environmental needs (water, power, food, health), demographics, education, safety, historical assets, social equity,  and financial needs of our City in one comprehensive interactive model. Such a model would be updated in real-time and could be used to test future scenarios (such as the impacts of different  Airport development options or the impact of our new Sacramento’s imposed Housing Element). It is one of Ron’s greatest regrets that our City, with all its sophisticated aspirations, never developed a master plan, instead always opting for piecemeal development, leading to many missed opportunities, unnecessary costs, and a compromised future. If you want to honor Ron’s memory, it would be by working collectively to develop such a Master Plan. 

After “retiring,” which he never really did, for the last several years, he was working on inserting pocket parks in our City and in Compton. These pocket parks would recapture city-owned land, such as underutilized cross streets and alleys, by placing basketball courts, picnic tables, trees, dog parks, etc., as recreational amenities of particular value to highly impacted, often recreation-starved neighborhoods.  Even on the last day of his life, as he was being driven by car, he was scouting the unfolding streetscape for pocket park opportunities, saying, “A pocket park could go there… or there…. and there.” Whether it was a tiny pocket park, a home, a synagogue, or a whole city, Ron’s vision and genius were both particular and expansive.  He could think small and big at the same time. 

As a Santa Monica resident, above all, he loved his city and the potential it held for future generations. He will be greatly missed. 

MARIO FONDA-BONARDI (SMa.r.t.) and entered into the City Council Minutes 10/10/23 by Councilman PHIL BROCK

Ron is survived by his wife Barbara, who worked with him and ran for many years a design store in the Malibu Country Mart, and by his daughter Karen and son Mark, their spouses Lindsey and Maya and by a grandson Jason. In addition, he has a brother, Kenny (Lori), and a sister (Lynne Shapiro). There will be a private Celebration of Life for Ron at the end of the month. Donations to his memory can be made to Planned Parenthood LA or the Pacific Neuroscience Institute (PNI) Foundation.

S.M.a.r.t Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.

For previous articles, see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

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