Heritage developer killed in plane crash on Quebec-U.S. border
Paul Oberman and injured co-pilot crashed in snowstorm en route from Halifax
to Quebec City
MONTREAL — He was a wealthy Toronto
real-estate developer with the necessary eye for the bottom line, but Paul
Oberman had a most unusual second identity: He was one of the best protectors
heritage buildings ever had.
The country’s neglected architectural gems have lost a key ally. Mr. Oberman,
a flying enthusiast and president of Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, died Monday
in a plane crash in a heavy forest in northern Maine. State officials say he and
a fellow pilot flew their four-seat Diamond DA-40 aircraft into a snowstorm en
route from Halifax to Quebec City.
One of the pilots reported the aircraft wings were icing just before it went
down a few kilometres from the Daaquam, Me., border crossing near Quebec. The
other occupant of the aircraft was taken to hospital with “relatively minor
injuries, for what he’d been through,” according to Steve McCausland of the
Maine State Safety Department.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of
Mr. Oberman, 53, is survived by six grown children and his wife, Eve Lewis,
the owner of marketing firm, MarketVision Real Estate Corp.
Where many of his rivals in the real-estate game lived in fear of the money
pit and were quick to call in the wrecking ball, Mr. Oberman could see
potential. And he frequently capitalized, turning neglected historical buildings
into majestic money makers in Ottawa and Montreal, but mainly his hometown,
An early flagship project for Mr. Oberman was King James Place in the shadow
of the skyscrapers of Toronto’s financial district. Launched in 1985, the
project restored one of the few stretches left untouched from the city’s
Victorian past. Some of the structures dated to 1836.
Mr. Oberman once boasted the project, completed in 1992, managed to coax
tenants from Bay Street’s “ivory towers.” Toronto City Hall, which paid official
tribute to Mr. Oberman on Tuesday, still uses the project as an example of high
standards in urban design.
He also restored Toronto’s Flatiron Building, Westmount Post Office in
Montreal and an historic stretch of Elgin Street near the Parliament Buildings
“It’s a terrifically sad loss,” said architect Philip Goldsmith, a longtime
friend and collaborator. “He became a heritage activist, but one who came at the
preservation of buildings from a sensible, logical business orientation. He had
a perspective that was unusual.”
Mr. Oberman didn’t always win the argument. He tried and failed to save
buildings like the Second World War-era aircraft hangars at Toronto’s Downsview
Airport, and a strip of 41 rundown buildings in Brantford, Ont.
“When I asked him for a cheque for the 41 buildings, he asked me, ‘How
much?’” said Lloyd Alter, a friend, architect and president of the Architecture
Conservancy of Ontario. “We lost that fight anyway, but it shows how generous he
Catherine Nasmith, an architect and publisher of a heritage building
newsletter, described Mr. Oberman as a successful family man and a proud father.
She also said he had a relentless work ethic and perfectionist streak. “He was
the kind of client every architect dreams of, even though he’d drive you nuts.
In a good way,” said Ms. Nasmith.
Born in 1957 in Toronto, Mr. Oberman worked in residential renovations in the
city in the 1970s, where he learned to despise the shag carpet and stucco
overhauls then popular in North America.
He moved to commercial real estate in the 1980s, “before brick and beam came
of age,” he once wrote, where he worked to incorporate modern efficiencies while
renovating and exposing historical features in old buildings.
“Our approach does not involve merely restoring or slavishly imitating past
forms,” Mr. Oberman wrote in an essay published last year in an anthology
entitled Design Does Matter. “Our aim is not simply to return buildings
to their past glory but to adapt them to more vibrant uses today than they had
in the past.”
Mr. Oberman drove the much-praised restoration of the former Canadian Pacific
Railway station, North Toronto, which boasted a clock tower modeled after the
Campanile di san Marco in Venice. Closed in the 1920s, the terminal, also known
as Summerhill Station, fell into neglect for decades afterward. Work began in
2000 after more than a decade of public debate.
While restoring the clocktower, Mr. Oberman added high-tech touches like a
rubber-cushioned concrete floor to dampen the vibrations of passing trains. The
station on Yonge Street now houses a massive flagship store for the LCBO, the
provincial liquor retailer.
Mr. Goldsmith, the architect on the North Toronto project, said Mr. Oberman
learned he could attract wealthy and loyal tenants willing to pay a premium for
“A lot of people don’t know how to get from A to B, or are just too nervous
that it won’t work,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “He was one of only a few who figured
© Copyright 2011 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights
globeandmail.com and The Globe and Mail are divisions of
CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Canada M5V
Phillip Crawley, Publisher