“Oddball” developer Melvyn Kaufman dies

Melvyn Kaufman, a longtime executive of the William Kaufman Organization who built six Midtown skyscrapers and several more in the Financial District, died March 18, the New York Times reported.

Kaufman’s quirky personality was reflected in the office buildings he built, the New York Times said, as they frequently included eccentric elements and eschewed traditional lobbies.

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“Marble and travertine mausoleums are bad for the living and terrific for the dead,” said Kaufman, on his distaste for lobbies. Instead, his office buildings were characterized by levity meant to engage pedestrians, according to the Times.

For example, he placed a sculpture of a big red swing at the entrance plaza of 777 Third Avenue, a series of hillocks with public benches outside 747 Third Avenue and a three-story high chess board on the wall outside 767 Third Avenue. Downtown there’s the long tunnel of corrugated steel that served as the lobby of 127 John Street (before it was converted to apartments by Rockrose) and the Sopwith Camel atop 77 Water Street.

Kaufman is also known for the frequent lawsuits he filed, including an attempt to recoup the cost of asbestos removal mandated by local government in the 1980s and an attempt to block Mayor Giuliani’s designation of pedestrian barriers at intersections. [NYT]