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Margot Gayle: In Memoriam

margot gayle

Margot Gayle, who died at her home on the Upper East Side on September 28 at the age of 100, was an active member of MAS for 61 years. She never understood inactive. As newsletter editor, trustee, chair of dozens of committees (several, now venerable organizations) and finally recipient of the Society’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis medal, Margot earned the right to relax. But the energy and spirit that saved threatened treasures from the Alice Austen House in Staten Island, to the Old Sun Clock in Lower Manhattan, to the Bogardus Fire Tower in Harlem kept her advocacy going right to the end.

Before we had mayors who cared, she practically swept up City Hall, saved the Art Commission from extinction, and helped the Landmarks Preservation Commission become independent. Perhaps Margot’s most notable achievement is the 1973 creation of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District – earning her the moniker “Queen of Cast-Iron Architecture”. According to former MAS President Brendan Sexton, ‘’Margot Gayle is the only reason we have a SoHo. The only person who comes close or who shares with Margot that honor is Jane Jacobs… Margot turned her eye on the cast-iron district and it appeared like magic.’’ In fact, it is hard to imagine what New York might have become without her.

Margot founded numerous groups, including the Victorian Society of America, the Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture, and the Friends of the City’s Historic Clocks. She also led the fight to get the clock on Jefferson Market started.

margot gayle

It is probably less well-known that Ms. Gayle had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s in bacteriology from Emory University. While in Atlanta in the late 1930s, she worked to eliminate the poll tax intended to prevent poor people from voting. She directed the Civil Defense Volunteer Office in Washington during World War II, then arrived in New York as a scriptwriter for CBS.

Active in politics during the 1950s, she ran for City Council in 1957 but was trounced by the Republican incumbent, Stanley M. Isaacs. She served under Mayor Robert F. Wagner as a public relations official for the New York City Planning Commission and the New York City Department of Commerce and Public Events.

Margot is survived by daughters Carol Gayle and Gretchen Gayle Ellsworth.