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Posted on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 5:50 p.m.

Ann Arbor landscape architect leaves behind strong legacy of community involvement

By Kyle Feldscher

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.


James D'Amour

Tue, Jan 4, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

I also had the opportunity to serve with Peter as the City Planning Commission representative to the Greenway Task Force. He was a wonderful man to work with, and managed to bring a controversial issue into a solid product. His temperament, his civility, his friendliness, compassion, and inclusiveness will be sadly missed. I lost a good friend.

Steve Pugsley

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 3:17 p.m.

I am mindful of Peters superb design skills every day because I am fortunate to live in the Summer Park Condominium Development in Hamburg Township that he designed over 12 years ago. Summer Park is a walk able community with real front porches and recessed garages facing a narrow street lined with trees and period street lights. Peter designed it as a complimentary expansion of the old Hamburg Village. Peter also had great public presentation skills. It was a joy to watch him move his hand in a circular motion pointing out the design features of his plan as he spoke. His soft spoken demeanor instilled a commanding presence in the many meetings I had the honor of attending with him in the 1990s. His passion for quality landscape design will live on for future generations to enjoy in the impressive body of work that he accomplished over his successful career. He was also an excellent wordsmith putting the elements of his designs into words to further educate the untrained eye. I will miss him as a friend and mentor. My sincere sympathy goes out to Eleanor, his children and other family members.

ed nagelkirk

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 4:07 p.m.

Peter leaves his legacy also in west Michigan. We, at Herman Miller, Inc. have a great appreciation for Peter, he was one of a kind. Peter became a part of our design teams in the early 90's and from the very beginning of our relationship we knew we were more than a client, we were his students! Peter provided nearly 20 yearss of wise council and his legacy of sustainable design will live on for generations. To Eleanor and the children we extend our heartfelt condolences.

Annie Arbor

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 12:54 p.m.

He will truly be missed for his creative vision,the generosity with his talent and the big love for his family, life, land,and community. From The African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Barbara Murphy

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

Peter chaired the controversial Mayor's Greenway committee, and guided the various views through to an excellent report. He put immense energy and time into it, and led the committee to produce a document that is a "ready-to-go" blueprint for action. It's too bad that he didn't get to see this project begun; it would have been a great legacy.

David Cahill

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 8:54 a.m.

Peter and I served on the citizens advisory committee for the Broadway Bridges several years ago. There was a significant disagreement about the width of the new bridge lanes, between eleven feet and twelve feet, as I remember. Peter said the greater width was for a highway, and the lesser width was better suited to inside a city. Peter managed to convince me (and others) that he was right. We went with the narrower lane width. He was indeed right. Consider this one more lasting achievement for him.

W.A.P. John

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

Peter always gently reminded us of the importance of the aesthetic. After dealing with the numbers, the requirements, the process...he'd ask about how the project makes us feel. Every day I admire the winding low stone walls along Fuller fields...Thank you Peter.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 9:08 p.m.

It was my real pleasure to have worked with Peter this past year on development of the city's new downtown design guidelines. Peter obviously felt this was an important task, and his presence on this task force provided a perspective that was significant in many ways. He truly will be missed.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:50 p.m.

He was part of our wealth as a community and we are poorer having lost him.

Jeff Hauptman

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8 p.m.

Peter was the human embodiment of Dr. Seuss's Lorax. He truly loved what he did and everyone felt it. He brought people together. The man was a saint. Few people Ive met have been as kind to people and as passionate about what they do. We were fortunate to have just recently completed a project with Peter Im so sorry it will be the last one. He will be greatly missed. Im so sorry Eleanor.

Leah Gunn

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 6:26 p.m.

Peter also served, for the last ten years, as a member of the Washtenaw County Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee. He gave generously of his time and expertise to recommend valuable natural areas for purchase. We shall miss him.