Members in the News

Obituary: Jean R. France (1923-2021)

by SAH News | Feb 10, 2021

Longtime SAH member, Jean France, passed away on February 3, 2021.  A member of SAH for 49 years, Jean was a frequent SAH Study Tour participant, annual conference participant, and an advocate for the fields of architectural history and historic preservation.  In recognition of a lifetime of achievement in our field, in 2010 Jean was named a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians.  Below are two tributes by individuals from the Western New York preservation community, where Jean lived and worked for decades.  We at SAH extend our since sympathy to Jean’s family and many friends who greatly valued this talented architectural historian, preservationist, mentor and retired architectural history faculty member at University of Rochester.  We at SAH are particularly saddened to lose our insightful and good-natured traveling companion who many counted as a close friend.   Pauline Saliga, Director, Society of Architectural Historians

The foremost expert on Claude Bragdon, Rochester’s most innovative, early 20th- century architect, Jean researched Bragdon’s career & life, beginning in the 1950s – a project for which she collected a remarkable archive of materials, during her more than 60 years of researching Bragdon.

In addition to Bragdon, Jean also lectured widely on local architecture, historic preservation and designer/artist Harvey Ellis.  Jean was guest curator for a 1970s exhibit on the work of Ellis at the Memorial Art Gallery/Univ. of Rochester – for which she also wrote the catalogue. She also organized the Memorial Art Gallery’s “Architecture:   The Art We Live In,” series that drew noted speakers from throughout the field and extended over a decade, due to its overwhelming popularity.

Jean served as a community advocate and preservation consultant to many local preservation boards and municipalities.  Her expertise was frequently sought by owners and architects who were working on the rehabilitation of a significant building, including houses, court houses, and other public buildings.

Jean’s most recent “consultant project” – and a highlight of her career - was to serve as the architectural historian on the team of architect, landscape architect, and general contractor, for the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Edward M. Boynton House (1908).  Located at 16 East Blvd. in the city of Rochester, the Boynton house is the only Wright project in the greater Rochester/Finger Lakes area.  This highly challenging, two-year project, was completed by the current owners of that residence, Jane Parker & Fran Cosentino.  It was the subject of a feature documentary by the Rochester, NY PBS station, WXXI.  Jean served for 52 years as a trustee of The Landmark Society of Western New York, where I was a colleague of Jean’s for more than four decades. Jean’s membership in SAH and participation on many SAH study tours garnered her many friends amongst her peers, including the late David Gebhardt.

Despite her failing health in recent years, Jean always rallied if the discussion featured architecture, preservation or architectural history.  With a twinkle in her eye and her inimitable way of “telling it like it is,” she was a remarkable colleague – who will be sorely missed, in so many ways.

Cynthia Howk, Architectural Research Coordinator
The Landmark Society of Western New York

Architectural Historian Jean France moved to Rochester, New York, in the late 1950s after her husband, Robert, accepted a position at the University of Rochester.  In addition to raising a family, Jean quickly became an advocate for historic preservation and architecture in Rochester and in Pittsford, New York, the community she loved.

One of her first accomplishments was helping to select Louis Kahn as the architect for the First Unitarian Church of Rochester (1962), to be built on Winton Road in Rochester.  Kahn's break-through design is said to reinterpret the partii of Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple (1905-1908).  It is a beautiful and beautifully detailed building that the American Institute of Architects has called the most significant religious structure built in America in the twentieth century.  Jean was justly proud of her role in giving Rochester this masterpiece.

Jean served for decades on the Board of The Landmark Society of Western New York.  She was involved in many of the Society's successful initiatives.  She was fearless in her advocacy for historic preservation and was intimidated by no one.  The Rochester Community owes her a great deal of gratitude for her tireless efforts to protect Rochester’s rich historical legacy.

Jean also taught architectural history at the University of Rochester.  She was an expert on Claude Brandon, Rochester's most acclaimed architect.  She was a mentor and inspiration to me.   She fostered a passion in generations of students who entered the fields of architecture and preservation.  She continually provided a fresh crop of interns at the Landmark Society and Bero Architecture where I worked for many years.

In Pittsford she was instrumental in the formation of Historic Pittsford, the listing of the village in the National Register of Historic Places, and the enactment of preservation ordinances in both the village and town.  In the 1960s, with a core group of preservation pioneers, she halted the beginning of destructive changes in Pittsford Village.  As a volunteer, she consulted with both the Town and Village for many years. Jean also served on the Perinton Historic Architecture Commission.  Although she lived in a beautiful Modern house outside of the village, her true preservation love was the historic core of Pittsford Village.

To me, Jean was both a respected colleague and a dear friend.  Her energy level never diminished, and she repeatedly inspired others who heard her speak.  Her willingness to give over and over is a value I have seen repeatedly in the Pittsford community.  However, I can think of no one who better exemplified this trait than Jean.  The legacy of her work is all around us and fortunately it will remain even though Jean is gone.

Robert Corby, Preservation Architect and Advocate
Mayor, Village of Pittsford, New York

Read Jean's obituary in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle here.


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for its operating support.
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Chicago, Illinois 60610