ITHACA, N.Y. -- A plan to build a new gateway to Cornell University -- and create a much-needed facility for its architecture program -- will become a reality thanks to a gift of $10 million from Irma Milstein and her family.
The gift honors Irma's husband, Paul. One of New York City's leading developers of residential and commercial real estate properties, he is considered a visionary in his field by many.
Paul Milstein courageously invested in large-scale developments where few others would venture at the time. These developments became anchors in neighborhoods that later turned around and thrived. In 1960, he pioneered the revival of New York City's Upper West Side near Lincoln Center with the development of Dorchester Towers, the first luxury building in that area since World War II. He also developed two other Upper West Side landmarks, One Lincoln Plaza in 1972, and 30 Lincoln Plaza in 1978. Two of the buildings overlook a plaza that is one of Lincoln Center's most popular thoroughfares, used daily by Juilliard and School of American Ballet students. Fittingly, the plaza was re-named in Milstein's honor two years ago.
In addition to helping revive the Upper West Side, Milstein Properties has bought and built tens of thousands of apartment, office and hotel units in other areas of New York. Their development activity has acted as a positive catalyst for change in many neighborhoods, among them the city's theater district, which benefited from the Milsteins' purchase of the Milford Plaza Hotel. Thanks to their efforts the Milford Plaza is today a highly successful tourist hotel.
Paul Milstein was born in New York City in 1923. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and New York University's School of Architecture. His family story is an American success story. His father, Morris, started with nothing but the labor of his hands. In 1919 he founded Circle Floor Company, Inc., a wood floor contracting business. After World War II, the business expanded into floor tile, acoustical ceilings and drywall construction. Paul
Milstein became president in 1961. Under his leadership, Circle Floor installed the floors in such landmarks as Rockefeller Center, the United Nations complex, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, the World Trade Center, Lincoln Center and the new Madison Square Garden. From there, the company made a logical leap into real estate development, where Paul Milstein earned his reputation as a master builder.
Having always had an eye for architecture, Paul Milstein brought his vision to Milstein Properties, where he serves as president. He has served as chairman of the board of Starrett Corporation and is co-chairman of Emigrant Savings Bank and a prominent philanthropist. Along with his brother, Seymour, he built the Milstein Hospital Building of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital -- a teaching hospital now linked with Weill Cornell Medical College. Paul Milstein serves on the hospital board and is chair of its real estate and construction committees. He has served as trustee of Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and the Bronx-Riverdale YMHA-YWHA. He has also been deeply involved in the educational life of New York. In addition to Cornell, beneficiaries of Milstein family gifts include the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University
Cornell President Hunter Rawlings hopes that the Milstein family gift to Cornell will have the same catalyzing effect on the campus that Milstein development has had in New York City.
The gift is also particularly timely for Cornell, noted Rawlings. The university's architecture program is one of the oldest and most venerable in the United States. It was recently ranked the top architecture program in the United States in a 1999 poll conducted by the Almanac of Architecture and Design. Its graduates include such well-known architects as Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman and Arthur Gensler. However, Rand Hall, where the university's undergraduate architecture program is located, is both overcrowded and in serious decline. The need for a new building was given great urgency in April 1997, when the National Architectural Accrediting Board, while highly praising the Cornell architecture program, its students and faculty, severely criticized the facility.
The Milstein gift also comes at a time when Cornell's initiative to house all freshmen in living and learning centers on its north campus is well under way. Rawlings believes that Rand, at the locus between central and north campuses, is an ideal place for the university to create a gateway structure at this important entrance to the central campus from the north. A new structure will have the added benefit of improving one of Cornell's key entrances, he noted.
"We are indebted to the Milsteins for their generosity and foresight," said Rawlings. "They will help us create a building of architectural merit that befits its gateway location, welcoming visitors and connecting the two campuses in ways that will enhance the undergraduate learning experience."
Porus Olpadwala, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, is excited about the gift's potential. "It will enable us to create a striking facility worthy of Paul Milstein and in harmony with its surroundings. The new building will attract critical acclaim in addition to giving our students and faculty a much-needed first-rate learning environment," he said.
Paul and Irma Milstein have had an interest in Cornell ever since three of their children enrolled as undergraduates. Howard is a member of the Class of '73; Barbara Zalaznick and her husband, David, are members of the Class of '76; and Roslyn Meyer entered as a member of the Class of '71 but graduated from Yale University.
"Cornell has played a significant role in our family's lives," said Howard Milstein, who is also a Cornell trustee. "A university is a gateway to life. Helping to create a gateway to the Cornell campus is a fitting way to underscore our commitment to this great institution. But it's also is a tribute to our father, who made Cornell possible for us and served as a role model for what it means to give."