Joan Kaplan Davidson, Philanthropist Who Championed New York, Dies at 96

Joan Kaplan Davidson, a preservationist and philanthropist who set tasks in movement that upgraded the standard of life in New York Metropolis, died on Friday in Hudson, N.Y. She was 96.

Her son John Matthew Davidson confirmed the loss of life, in a hospital. He didn’t specify a trigger, saying merely that “her heart gave out.”

Ms. Davidson served as chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts within the Seventies and as New York State parks commissioner within the Nineties. However she made her most lasting mark from 1977 to 1993 as president of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a basis established by her father, Jacob M. Kaplan, in 1945.

The fund has a modest endowment in contrast with big foundations like Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller. However it has typically been the primary cease for these looking for grants to save lots of buildings, help cultural establishments or restore landmarks in New York.

Below Mr. Kaplan, the inspiration supplied the cash to save lots of Carnegie Corridor within the Sixties when nobody else appeared . It additionally created Westbeth, the artists’ housing advanced in Decrease Manhattan that grew to become the mannequin for the rehabilitation of commercial buildings in all places. Below Ms. Davidson, the inspiration laid the groundwork, and supplied a lot of the cash, for the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, fashioned to renovate and protect the mayor’s residence.

Ms. Davidson, who may typically be seen picketing to save lots of an endangered landmark constructing, centered the fund on points associated to town’s structure, design and high quality of life. She additionally established packages to help the humanities, civil liberties and human rights, in addition to the conservation of pure assets and rural preservation in upstate New York.

“I always thought we were different because we did not just write checks, we stepped in and got involved,” she instructed The New York Occasions in 1997 when the fund celebrated its fiftieth 12 months of offering grants.

All through her tenure, she most popular making comparatively small grants, some as little as $1,000 however typically within the tens of 1000’s. “We didn’t give huge amounts of money,” she mentioned. “To us the point was to use money strategically, to get causes off the ground.”

Joan Kaplan was born on Could 26, 1927, in New York Metropolis to Jacob and Alice (Manheim) Kaplan. Her father, a rabbi’s son, dropped out of faculty within the eighth grade, made a fortune in South America within the molasses enterprise and later purchased out the homeowners of Welch’s Grape Juice. An iconoclastic businessman, he bought Welch’s to a cooperative of his workers in 1956 and centered his consideration on his basis.

Mr. Kaplan, who grew to become all in favour of saving Carnegie Corridor after the violinist Isaac Stern appealed to him personally, most popular a direct, hands-on method to philanthropy and tended to shun five-year plans and prolonged bureaucratic opinions. Ms. Davidson felt the identical method.

Certainly, she credited her political and philanthropic pursuits, in addition to her working model, to her dad and mom. She adopted her mom’s pursuits in artwork and structure and her father’s involvement in civil rights to the purpose that she was as soon as described by New York Girl journal as “the fiercest funder of the city’s progressive-liberal causes.”

She was raised in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and obtained a Bachelor of Arts diploma from Cornell College in 1948 and, a 12 months later, a postgraduate diploma in training from Financial institution Avenue School of Training in Manhattan. After instructing faculty and writing promoting copy for Macy’s, she moved to Washington, the place in 1953 she married C. Girard Davidson, who had been an assistant secretary of the inside within the Truman administration. That they had 4 kids and divorced in 1967.

That very same 12 months the Kaplan Fund joined with the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts to start out Westbeth Artists Housing, one of many first tasks supposed particularly to offer properties for artists, within the previous Bell Laboratories constructing on the nook of West and Bethune Streets in Greenwich Village. Ms. Davidson managed the creation of Westbeth for her father and was its first president.

Opened in 1970, Westbeth was added to the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations in 2009 and designated a New York Metropolis landmark in 2011.

When Mr. Kaplan retired in 1977, he turned the administration of the inspiration over to his daughter, who a 12 months earlier had ended her transient tenure as chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts. Mr. Kaplan died in 1987.

Like her father, Ms. Davidson stored an open thoughts when true believers got here to name. When Barry Benepe, an city planner, approached her in 1976 together with his concept for greenmarkets within the metropolis, she instantly supported the idea, seeing it as a method to offer each contemporary produce for metropolis shoppers and monetary underpinning for farmers who may in any other case have been compelled to promote out to builders. Mr. Benepe later estimated that the greenmarkets had saved some 20,000 agricultural acres.

Below Ms. Davidson, the Kaplan Fund additionally supplied some $100,000 to publish the 38-page “Juror’s Guide to Lower Manhattan.” The information, itemizing one of the best strolling excursions within the neighborhoods close to the borough’s courthouses, was provided with out value to jurors in its county courts. “We felt there should be a little bit of a reward for being a juror,” Ms. Davidson defined.

Ms. Davidson gave up the presidency of the Kaplan Fund when Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed her New York State commissioner of parks, recreation and historic preservation in 1993. The fund was taken over progressively by her kids and three of their cousins, however she remained energetic as president emeritus.

Along with her son John, Ms. Davidson is survived by three different kids, G. Bradford Davidson, Alice Elizabeth Pickering and Peter W. Davidson; 12 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren. She lived in Germantown, N.Y.

A e book about Ms Davidson and the Kaplan Fund, “It’s a Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the Fight for a Better New York,” by Roberta Brandes Gratz, was revealed in 2020.

Ms. Davidson’s tenure as parks commissioner proved short-lived; it ended when George E. Pataki, a Republican, changed Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, as governor. However she remained concerned in conservation efforts, notably within the Hudson Valley, the place she had a manor home on the banks of the river constructed by a descendant of Robert Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

To the tip, Ms. Davidson expressed pleasure in positioning the Kaplan Fund on the middle of New York life whereas different foundations primarily based within the metropolis tended to focus most of their grant making elsewhere.

“The great foundations have the whole world,” she mentioned in 1997. “We have always just wanted to strike a blow for small, decisive things in a world of mega.”

Ashley Shannon Wu contributed reporting.

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