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Samuel Ratensky ( 1910-1972 )

Architect and influential city planner, Samuel Ratensky was born on June 19, 1910 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture as well as under legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He first became involved in city planning and urban development while working for the New York City Housing Study Guild in the late 1930s. Between 1935 and 1936 he worked for The Resettlement Administration, a New Deal program devoted to relocating thousands of Americans from agriculturally exhausted farmland to newly-formed greenbelt communities.

Ratensky enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 1943. In June 1945, soon after the end of war, he was assigned to the MFAA in Germany. In his position as MFAA Specialist Officer for the German provinces of Kurhessen and Hessen-Nassau, Ratensky made regular inspection trips to cities in the surrounding area, including Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Fulda, Ziegenhain, Mannheim, and Heidelberg. In July 1945 he undertook multiple inspections of two bunkers at Bad Wildungen containing paintings, drawings, and archives belonging to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt, Germany. There, alongside Monuments Men Capt. Walker K. Hancock and Capt. James J. Rorimer, he monitored the photographing of the bunkers’ contents and posted a military guard at the entrances. He was also active in restitution activities at the central collecting points in Marburg and Wiesbaden. Ratensky was later transferred to the headquarters of the MFAA Branch of the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (OMGUS) for Greater Hesse, where he became Chief of the MFAA for Land Greater Hesse in early 1946. Due to ill health, he was hospitalized on multiple occasions.

Upon his return home to New York City in May 1946, Ratensky resumed his career as an architect and city planner. A passionate advocate for good public housing, he was a leader in many housing initiatives for middle class families. He joined the New York City Housing Authority in 1946 and later became the organization’s planning director in 1952. Similar appointments followed, including Director of the Urban Renewal Board, Executive Assistant for the City Housing and Redevelopment Board, and Director of the Wateredge Development Study for the State Urban Development Corporation. In 1957 he studied housing planning in Europe, a fellowship sponsored by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1966, he was awarded a medal of honor for his “rare combination of judgment, insight, and idealism both in conception and execution of the city’s housing and planning policies.” The award was presented through a joint decision by the local units of the AIA, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Samuel Ratensky died of a brain tumor on December 28, 1972 in New York City. Today, the New York chapter of the AIA hosts The Samuel Ratensky Lecture in his honor.