Lead architect of Utica Aud, Seltzer, dies at age 106

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Gilbert “Gil” Seltzer, lead architect of the Utica Memorial Auditorium, died Saturday, Aug. 14, two months shy of his 107th birthday.

Seltzer’s firm, Gehron and Seltzer, was contracted in 1956 to design what now stands as a National Historic Engineering Landmark.

During the time of its creation, the Aud was the first facility ever to use telescopic seating, as well as the first to utilize the cable-suspended roof system. In 1956, Seltzer determined that a circular building would best fit this relatively small parcel of land but realized that a traditional domed roof was impractical due to cost and weight considerations. Seltzer hired structural engineer Lev Zetlin, who ultimately designed the Aud’s roof system.

The Aud was not Seltzer’s only memorable contribution in architecture. In 1939, working at Gehron Architects, Seltzer was the firm’s construction phase representative for the Convalescent Camp on Roosevelt Island in New York City, later named the Goldwater Hospital. A few years after, Seltzer temporarily left his career for 55 months to service during World War II in the the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army – a top secret decoy mission that misdirected Nazi troops away from actual invasion beaches.

Seltzer went on to design notable projects including the East Coast War Memorial in Battery Park, the original Newark campus of The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, as well as buildings at West Point, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, CUNY Rutgers, William Paterson College, New Jersey City University and New Jersey Y Camps.

To honor Seltzer and the integral part he played in creating the Aud, in 2017, the arena commissioned a dimensional oil portrait of Seltzer done by local artist Tim Rand. The piece is comprised of over 2,000 small wooden blocks, and hangs in the suit wing of the Aud in a room known as Zuhaus. At the time of the artwork’s unveiling, Seltzer was 104 and still working four days a week as an architect.

“The Utica Memorial Auditorium would have been a much different place if the City did not hire Gil Seltzer, in 1956, as the lead architect for the project,” said Senior Auditorium Authority Member Paul Romano. “He used the numerous site constraints and budget challenges as his impetus to create facility which continues to function flawlessly as the City’s premier indoor sports venue some six decades after its construction. It was a bold and innovative design for its time, and it certainly took courage to approve a cable-roof system that had never been used in the way it was employed at The Aud. As we learned more about his life, career, and service in World War II, we began to understand that his work at The Aud was a true reflection of his remarkable character.”

“Still to this day it amazes me on how well The Aud was designed more than 60 years ago,” said Mohawk Valley Garden Chief Executive Officer Robert Esche. “Gil’s profound leadership and courage to take on a project with such challenges is a testament to who he was as a person; it’s also fitting that over the last couple of days, everyone has come together once again to restart the finalization of another impactful project connected to The Aud: the Nexus Center.”

The Comets’ organization noted in a statement: “It would be impossible to summarize Seltzer’s impact on not only our City, but our entire world, with words on paper. Seltzer’s genius mind and ingenuity affords us the honor of watching the Comets, Utica City FC, and Utica College Pioneers, in addition to any other show at The Aud, day after day.”

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