Abraham Rogatnick 1923 - 2009

Post by Mike Klassen in


Abraham Rogatnick. Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

It's with sadness that we share the news of the passing of Abraham Rogatnick this afternoon. This lovely photo of Abraham was taken by his close friend, photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward who wrote about this great Vancouver original often on his fine blog. How can you sum up a life of amazing accomplishments? It's certainly not something we'll attempt here, but there are many places to read his bio.

Abraham was the co-founder of the first contemporary art gallery in Vancouver, co-founder of the Arts Club Theatre, Fulbright Scholar, Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, juror of art and architecture competitions, and an expert in the history and architecture of Venice (where he traveled regularly). He proudly referred to himself only as an actor.

Rogatnick has touched the lives of thousands through his philanthropy and his teaching. His most recent public appearance was this summer during a speech he gave in tribute to his friend and contemporary, the late Arthur Erickson. Vancouver Magazine's profile of Rogatnick published last year is a good read.

"I first met Abraham in London on my visit to Torino with Sam Sullivan at the time of the last winter Olympics," says CityCaucus.com's Daniel Fontaine. "It became apparent to me immediately that Abraham truly loved the city of Vancouver. It was for that reason - seeing Vancouver on the world stage - that Rogatnick wanted to be in Torino for the closing of the Games.

"He became essential to my survival in Italy as he knew the language, the culture, and all the best places to dine. Abraham is someone you'll never forget. He will be sadly missed."

The tributes will begin pouring in around the city and across the globe in the days to come. He was tiny in stature, but larger than life.

We'd really like to hear the comments from our readers about Abraham. Share your thoughts and your stories about the man.


There is something about the unique person that ABRAHAM ROGATNICK was, for many of us student of Architecture at UBC .the professor the mentor the friend and the warm humanist that found that knowledge was not the main key to connect with people rather the warm and casual, intelligent sharing of his perspectives on any subject (and his students of three generations can acknowledges this). His love and knowledge of Venice made me a follower of that passion and for the last 15 years our connection was Venice and the incredible stories on his life.
Our last visit in July before my annual trip to Venice was at Chinese restaurant on Alma Street few blocks from his home, his health was not helping but he agreed to have a short visit and recap on the recent memorial to Arthur Erickson (which I missed) were he did a deep soul moving tribute to a friend.
We arrived at the restaurant and he was greeted by the staff as an old friend visiting and the strange thing for me was that while we were directed to a table the waitress carried a big yellow pages book that she placed on one of the chairs. My surprised was clarified when Abraham explained ‘’they know me here and they know that these tables are too high for me so they always bring me the yellow pages before I pick up a table”. In our lunch the conversation as usual started with Venice and magically we touched based back to UBC days, the faculty, and his life experience during the war his travels and the discoveries of visiting places his latest impressions were on the scale of the Taj Mahal in India and we always ended with the theater. We had a fulfilling lunch, Abraham asked to take his unfinished meal and walked up to the counter as I saw this we fought for the check and he won and promised the next lunch will have to be on my tab. We walk back to his home talking about the neighborhood were he lived and we stop to talk to one of his neighbors across the street ( incidentally this lady was the original owner of his house and she just moved across the street ) they reminiscent about the trees in the front of the house and how much the garden was transformed with the split arbor gate created at the transition from the side walk to the front of the house ( he informed me that the arbor gate was the suggestion of his friend ‘’Cornelia’’ Mrs. Oberlander). As we walk into the garden he show me about the wild overgrown dandelions that he did not wanted to cut he said ‘’ they look right’’ as he took a second look to the garden, he noticed the semi-destroyed spot lights on the ground and he proceed to ask me if I wouldn’t mind to pull off the spot lights since the fellow doing the garden had not followed his instructions. So I did grab and pull 6 spots from the ground and left them for the fellow who does the garden to take then away. We came in the house because he wanted to read for me the manuscript for Arthur Erickson memorial. We sat in the living room and he brought a photo-clip from the news paper of the Taj Mahal and he show me the incredible scale of this building he insisted ‘’look, look the size of a person in this place incredible “” in fact a person disappears in relation to the building ‘’you have to visit it,… people do not realize of big is this magnificent building’’. The telephone rang and he proceded to answer and in a short communication indicated to be busy and asked to call later.
He mentioned that it was Sam and he will call back later. He candidly said that was Sam and they keep in touch and just recently Sam and his wife have taking him for lunch on father’s day. We talked more about their trip to Italy and the politics in the city. It was getting late for me, it was already 3 o’clock and we suppose to have one hour lunch because of his health and I was to meet my wife at 5 o’clock.
Finally he got his binder with the two pages eulogy to a friend.
He described the setting to me, the monumental assembly space at The Simon Fraser Campus .He said ‘’ ……….It was that big space full of people and all silent then this old man walking with a cane is making his slow walk towards the front podium, everyone was looking and waiting, as I arrived to the podium everyone is wandering who is this old man .Then I started the eulogy with an strong voice ‘AT LAST ‘’.
Them I had the most moving performance of an old man talking about a friend a candid presentation recreated by the author ,I wish I had recorded this moments because Abraham was strong ,soft and funny .He had tears on his eyes has he read with firm and clear voice his manuscript. When he finished the old man had taken me to the full recollection of that day and his memories of a friend. I commented that I enjoyed his eulogy to Arthur Erickson because I noticed there was a balanced tone with casual and funny things about the raccoons, the cats in Arthur’s neighborhood and contra pointed with serious deep memories of Arthur’s life. Abraham responded ’’ Yes this is intentional; I always have loved to write and this keep my audiences awaken.’’ Certainly I was awake and not only deeply touched by this unique gesture of friendship from a mentor to an old student .He said as I remember’’ I have so many stories to tell that I could spend the whole day talking about ,I want people to know them because they are part of our life’s in this city ‘’.
THE TIME WAS 5.30pm and I had to rush to pick up my wife on the north shore (at 5 o’clock). I said good bye with a big hug and a stronger hand shake with the promise that at my return from Venice the Lunch tab was on me immediately left and rushed to the north shore. At home I found that my wife had called Abrahams asking if II was still there. Abraham said that I had just left but that I have toll him not have a rush to leave, which in fact was the true. The greatest gift other than the scaled plans of Venice that he has given me many years ago and the introduction to friends in Venice and in Vancouver this last Lunch with Abraham was for me the memory of my life with a friend a mentor and Artist of humanistic depth, I will always regret not to had follow up with the next lunch meeting,
Abraham you will live always in Venice in my memory and soul.
Alfonso l. Tejada

I first met Abraham just over three years ago, when I phoned to ask his support for the Pantages Theatre Project. He was immediately fascinated, all-hearted, and intrigued by its prospects. Things took off from there.

On the morning of 6 January 2008, he phoned me at home to offer "congratulations" on the 100th anniversary of the opening of that extraordinary theatre, and to offer a gift: $1 million toward its Endowment. I was stunned, and pledged to secrecy.

For a variety of sad political excuses (a demand for 'rigor' that was merely an excuse for rigor mortis), the Pantages Project has failed. But none of us will ever forget Abraham's insight, instincts and canny intelligence about what it could have meant to our city.

Awhile back I chauffeured him to the Arthur Erickson memorial up at SFU. He gave the keynote address, and after -- you can't imagine. Multiple dozens of long-ago students, colleagues, friends came up to him in a vortex that only ended when it was time to take him to a dinner with Cornelia Oberlander, Geoff Massey, Moshe Safdie and even more friends and colleagues. What a galaxy he lived in.

As time passed, he and I became good friends. In the last few weeks, as his energy fled, his mind never did. I took to phoning for an hour or two, every day or two, and tried (but failed) to keep up with his restless curiosity.

I last saw him at the hospital, and was able to show him photos of a trip two weeks ago we took to the Badlands. He seemed amazed by jpegs, and asked a hundred questions about hoodoos, and much more.

Abraham's name should be remembered. His gift to our city should be honoured. Above all, the force of intellect and taste and personality that he brought to bear on everything he touched should be held close, for a long time.

This was an original and authentic man.

Thanks for writing this post - I read it with sadness while "cheating" during my holidays, and checking up on the Vancouver blogs. Abe was a tremendous teacher and inspiration to many at city hall, including generations in the planning department. Although I hadn't had the chance to get to know Abe in my first few years here, that was something we were just working to change, starting in the last few months with a long and enthusiastic lunch-time chat about city patterns, building scales and types, whether Vancouver needs a central square, what to do about a new Vancouver Art Gallery, great density through great design, etc, etc, etc. It was a fun, whirlwind of a chat, and it was to be the first of many. As with life too often, we assume we have more time than we have. I very much regret that I and other "newer" people at city hall won't have more opportunities to enjoy Abe's passion, intelligence and good nature. But on behalf of us newer arrivals, thank you to Abe for his tremendous contributions, and deep condolences to his family and long-time friends.

Abraham and his late partner Alvin Boyarsky were among the first people to welcome us to Vancouver after my wife and I first arrived here fresh from the AA in London and were trying to figure this new place out. Abe gave me an insite to the possibilities of this city, but more than that, he manifested a tangible connection to Vancouver's academic, intellectual and artistic society. Yet he did it in such a humble and inclusive way that he magically made you somehow feel a part of that society, even if, as in my case at that time, there was no basis of a claim to belong in those circles. But Abe had a gift for inclusiveness, for making people feel valued and important and appreciated. So he made many friends over his long life with that gift. I was lucky enough to count myself one of those friends. He was never threatened by others' intellectual or artistic capacities, in fact he thrived on nurturing these capacities in others, and was generous to a fault with his praise if he believed in you. But he was not indiscrimate, and also saw through cliche and cant. He was not afraid to give his opinion, even if this may have gone against the prevailing common wisdom or politically acceptable position. He was an authentic, genuine person who lived his life to the full. And he was a gentlemen, in all senses of the word.

Abe will be sorely missed, and Vancouver is the richer for his varied contributions, and very much the poorer for his passing. Goodbye dear friend.

Lance Berelowitz

Sorry, I just realized I got Alvin's surname wrong. It was not Boyarsky, but for the life of me I'm drawing a blank. Someone help here please.
Lance Berelowitz

Alvin Balkin

We spoke of architecture, truth and honesty. We talked about B.C. Binning's house and the importance of art and architecture in Vancouver. We had informal phone conversations about heritage and the importance of bringing nature and history to a place. We talked about Arthur Erickson and about what it takes to be a leader in design. We even exchanged thoughts about the Dal Grauer substation--the most beautiful examples of Vancouver Modernism--and the need to replace its awful Plexiglas windows overlooking Burrard Street with beautiful low-iron glass.

Abe certainly spoke his mind and we can certainly all draw inspiration from his wisdom.

Abraham Rogatnick was a thinker, an educator on the built environment, and instilled his passion for art and design with his students. I was so lucky as a graduate planning student to take his art history classes at the University of British Columbia. Abe would stand at the front of the hall with his pointer in hand, and for that period of time enthrall with his wonderful slides of art, of history, urban design, and form.
Each student was required to prepare and produce a book containing their drawings, ponderings and musings on what Abe taught. We were learning from the master how to analyse and how to think beyond what we were taught, and comprehend how conceptualization of ideas and form could spark our own creativity. It was an inspiring time and I feel so honoured to have had such an excellent introduction to form and urban design.
Abe was very involved and interested in city processes and public art, and always interested in catching up with his former students. He will be deeply missed.

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