Ann Arbor landscape architect leaves behind strong legacy of community involvement
Through decades of teaching, designing and living in Ann Arbor, Peter Pollack left an indelible mark on the city, its leaders and his profession before his death Monday, city officials and family members said today.
Pollack, who originally moved to the city in 1973 as an assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, was involved in many projects for the city. Those included designing the Mary Beth Doyle Park and Wetland Preserve, the Furstenberg Interpretive Park and projects at the former Pfizer site on Plymouth Road, some of which were done pro bono.
Eleanor Pollack, his wife of 35 years, said Peter Pollack did his best to give back to the city he loved living in.
“He felt strongly that because he had certain talents, and the city had been so good to him in terms of providing a good place to live, that he wanted to share his capabilities with the city,” she said.
Pollack died Monday at the age of 71, leaving behind his wife, sister Susan Weber and children Michael and Johonna.
Pollack was an accomplished landscape architect who was truly born to live his profession, his wife said. She said he was a quiet man but had a big presence with a strong ability to listen, which served him well on the many city boards he was a part of.
“He could go into a room of people with hugely divergent opinions and attitudes, and he listened well and was able to bring that all together,” Eleanor Pollack said. “The talent that man had, he was a landscape architect in the way that some people are Polish or Catholic or Jewish.”
After earning his degree from Penn State in 1963, he graduated from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1965. Originally working for Sasaki Dawson DeMay Associates firm in Watertown, Mass., he was named a fellow in landscape architecture by the American Academy in Rome in 1971, an honor his wife said about 100 people have ever been given.
Pollack also had considerable influence over the accreditation and education standards put out by the American Society of Landscape Architects, in which he was named a fellow in 1993.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje worked with Pollack for decades in dealings between Pollack Design Associates — the Ann Arbor-based company the Pollacks began in 1974 — and the city.
He said Pollack had been asked to serve on numerous task forces, commissions and boards and had never denied a request. Hieftje said Pollack was interested both in beautifying Ann Arbor and bringing its residents together.
“He was very interested in the beauty of urban spaces,” Hieftje said. “Very interested in spaces that brought people together. Peter wanted to see people engaged in the street, on the porch, at the market. He was just really interested in beautiful spaces where the public could come together to experience each other.”
Ann Arbor officials said losing Pollack was a blow to the city. It was evident how much he meant to some City Council members at Monday’s meeting.
Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, read a letter announcing Pollack would no longer be a part of the design guidelines process due to his deteriorating condition. She said he had been a civically active resident and would be missed.
“(Pollack) has been an amazing contributor to this,” Higgins said, tearing up.
The design guidelines taskforce was set up to attach guidelines to building proposals.
“He’s someone all the people who worked with him had a tremendous amount of respect for and he’s a great loss to our community,” Hieftje said.
In addition to his passion for landscape architecture, Pollack often enjoyed accompanying his wife to Hill and Rackham Auditoriums on the U-M campus for concerts put on by the university’s musical groups.
Eleanor Pollack said the ability to walk from their Kerrytown home to the concerts was one of the things that kept the family in Ann Arbor.
“That was one of the great joys we had was the ability to walk from our home in the Kerrytown area to Hill and Rackham,” she said.
The family will have a private burial and will receive friends, family and colleagues at the Muehlig Funeral Chapel, 403 S. Fourth Ave., at a yet to be determined time. A date and time will be posted on the Muehlig website. The family asks that contributions be made to the American Academy in Rome or to the University Musical Society.