David W. Barton Jr., former Baltimore City Planning Commission chair, dies

David W. Barton, Jr., a former business owner and Baltimore City Planning Commission chair who was an early critic of urban expressways, died July 1 at Symphony Manor in Roland Park. The Roland Park resident was 94.

Family members said he died in his sleep and that a medical cause of death was not established.


“Dave was a major player in the city in the late 1960s and ’70s,” said Abell Foundation president Robert C. Embry Jr. “He was an amazing private citizen who devoted his time uncompensated. He had a strong personality and was an advocate. His efforts were a real plus for the city.”

Born in Baltimore and raised in Ruxton, he was the son of David W. Barton Sr., founder of the Barton-Gillet financial printing firm, and his wife, Sally Willson Gordon. He attended St. James School in Hagerstown and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1941. As part of his training on the V-12 Bill, he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in World War II and the Korean War. He left military service in 1952.


While on reserve status from 1946 to 1951, he was a Gilman School football, basketball, lacrosse and tennis coach.

In an autobiographical sketch, he said he transformed his family’s business from financial printing into a national institutional marketing firm with the introduction of graphic arts emphasis in the 1950s.

"Barton-Gillet thrived over six decades through 1990, serving clients including Yale, Harvard, and Princeton; the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress; Johns Hopkins Medical, and hundreds of others,” he wrote.

In 1959, Mr. Barton was named “Man of the Year” by the Baltimore Art Directors Club as “the executive who had done most to promote good advertising and good design in the Baltimore area.” He had recently produced a publication showing the design of the Charles Center, the urban renewal plan for Charles, Baltimore, Fayette, Saratoga and Lexington streets.

“David was candid and had sharp options with me. He was quite smart and he got around a lot," said Page Nelson, a longtime friend who lives in Wilmington, Del. “It always surprised me how many people he knew and how he got around. He had a nice relationship with Mayor Tommy D’Alesandro."

Mr. Barton, who was active in the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore and supported the initiatives of the Greater Baltimore Committee, was picked by Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin to chair the city Planning Commission in April 1964. A Sun story called Mr. Barton’s nomination a “surprise announcement.”

Almost immediately, he took a proactive stance on the commission and pushed for a new city master plan. He also took up early environmental issues and in 1965 spoke out for cleaner air. He was soon challenged by the city Public Works director, Bernard L. Werner, who said, “I cannot visualize any help the commission might give the performance of the internal combustion engine.”

Mr. Barton was a leader in supporting the completion of the Charles Center and the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor.


Mayors Thomas J. D’Alesandro III and William Donald Schaefer reappointed Mr. Barton to the commission. By the 1970s, Mr. Barton challenged the city’s desire to construct an interstate highway system from its western boundary, at Leakin Park, through the harbor — including the waterfronts of Federal Hill, Fells Point and Canton. He did support what became Interstate 95 in South and Southeast Baltimore.

His clashes with Mayor Schaefer led to his resignation from the Planning Commission in February 1972.

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In a Sun letter to the editor published at the time of his resignation, Mr. Barton wrote: “There is no proof that these [highway] systems necessarily are the answer. In fact, in some cities they have proved they definitely are not.”

Mr. Barton was also a member of the Baltimore Regional Planning Board and the Baltimore-Washington Common Market. He served on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the Maryland Commission on Higher Education, Baltimore Museum of Art, Church Home and Hospital, St. James School, Bryn Mawr School, Hannah More Academy and Baltimore Art Directors Club.

His granddaughter, Priscilla Barton-Metcalfe, said: “He was a voracious reader who was savvy and witty. He was generous with his time and his resources, and he liked to see other people succeed. His main publications were [the] Financial Times, The Economist, [The] Wall Street Journal and The Sun.”

She said that as an athlete, “he was a fierce competitor and he really liked to win.”


He played tennis and golf and belonged to The Elkridge Club, L’Hirondelle Club, Baltimore Country Club and Maryland Club, along with the Rockywold/Deephaven, Profile and Bald Peak Clubs of New Hampshire, and the Beach Club and Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Fla.

.A memorial service and reception will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Thomas Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills.

In addition to his granddaughter, survivors include his wife of 30 years, Carol Urban Barton; three daughters, Meta Patten of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Taylor Barton Smith of Amagansett, N.Y., and Emilie Kelly of Morrison, Colo.; two stepsons, Henry Cherry of Los Angeles and Jack Cherry of Tulsa, Okla.; and six other grandchildren. A daughter, Blair L. Barton, died in 2011. His was divorced from Meta Margaret Packard Barton, who died in 2015.