Gilbert Liss Seltzer
SGT in 23rd Headquarters Co : Formerly 603 Co C, replaced Sterling
Born 1914 in Canada, Died 2021
County of residence at enlistment: Essex County, NJ
Other residence(s): West Orange, NJ
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: architects
College education before the war: Univ. of Toronto 4 years
Gilbert Seltzer was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on October 11, 1914, the younger of two sons. His parents had emigrated from Russia in the early years of the 20th century; they had married in New York City (where Gil's older brother was born) but eventually settled in Toronto, where Gil's father, Julius, owned and operated the Dominion Knitting Mill with his brother-in-law.
Young Gilbert studied architecture at the University of Toronto; as part of his degree program he had to have 12 months of experience in the field. He was able to get summer work with William Gehron, a prominent New York City architect, and Gehron hired him full-time in 1937, after he graduated. He was not without family in New York; his brother Clarence was living in Newark at the time.
In 1939 he declared his intention to become a US citizen; the following year he filled out his draft registration on October 16, 1940.
He enlisted on May 15, 1941, after receiving his draft notice. He trained with the 4th Armored Division at Pine Camp, and worked his way up to the rank of Sergeant, before attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, VA. (He had thought about transferring to the Canadian Armed Forces before he found out that he was eligible for OCS in the U.S.) He was then assigned to the 603rd as a platoon leader.
In 1943 he married Molly Gold; they would go on to have two children: Joan and Richard.
Once in Europe with the Ghost Army, he ended up becoming Adjutant for the 603rd, and had a chance to learn more about strategy.
After the war he returned to his architectural work in NYC. He became a partner in the newly christened firm of Gehron & Seltzer in 1952 and, after Gehron died, the firm morphed into Gilbert L. Seltzer Associates.
Gil's firm focused on the design of government and educational buildings. He designed many buildings for the US Military Academy at West Point, and almost all the buildings on the campus of William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. He also did work for New Jersey City University, Rutgers University, Kean University, Denison University in Ohio, and the Merchant Marine Academy, among others. But he's proudest of his design for the Utica, NY Municipal Auditorium. His innovative design featured a cable-suspended roof--the first such design anywhere in the world, and one that inspired the design of the current Madison Square Garden.
Gil eventually moved both his firm and his family to West Orange, NJ. Designs for West Orange school buildings also joined his portfolio.
Gil remained a practicing architect well into the second century of his life. When he was 105 years old, in 2019, he was interviewed by the AIA (American Institute of Architects) as their featured member. The article began: "Gilbert L. Seltzer, AIA, might be the only 105-year-old practicing architect in the world."
An Essex News Daily article, also in 2019, says of Gil that "all professions change over time, but in 82 years Seltzer’s process has remained largely the same. He refuses to use a computer to design a building, instead preferring to pick up a pencil and paper. He is an artist, after all. 'I have to feel it, the pencil in my hand,' Seltzer said. 'Architecture is an art. Computers and art don’t mix too well.'
And in another interview the same year, AIA New Jersey asked Mr. Seltzer for his advice for the next generation of architects. He offered, “They say it’s a helluva hard way to make a living. I consider it the mother of all arts. I have worked with the greatest artists in the world. I am proud to call myself an architect."
Gil died on August 14, 2021. His obituary in the Newark Star-Ledger called him “proud Jew, atheist, liberal, Mensa member, puzzle solver.”
NOTE re his name: His mother's maiden name was "Liss," the source of his middle name. This was his birth name, though at various points in his life he used the middle name Leslie instead.
Want to know more? Listen to three NPR StoryCorps interviews.
1914 birth record
1921 Canada census
1939 declaration for US citizenship
1940 draft card
1941 enlistment record
1941 immigration documents (traveling from Toronto to NYC)
1943 marriage record
1994 obituary for Molly Seltzer in Verona-Cedar Grove Times (NJ)
2016 a note about his father in A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to The Power of Beliefs in Business by Ari Weinzweig
2018 letter from Gil Seltzer to Sam Smith (part of GALP archives)
2019 NPR StoryCorps interview
2019 AIA "Featured Member"
2019 article in AIA New Jersey site
2019 article in Essex News Daily
2019 article in West Orange NJ Patch
2021 obituary, WKTV Utica NY
2021 obituary, Newark Star-Ledger (NJ)
note about the family on genealogy.com