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George Kostritsky, founding member of Baltimore’s RTKL architectural firm, dies of coronavirus complications

George Eugene Kostritsky brought to his avocation of gardening an architect's attentiveness to detail and eye for design.
George Eugene Kostritsky brought to his avocation of gardening an architect's attentiveness to detail and eye for design.

Born in Shanghai and raised in San Francisco, George Eugene Kostritsky savored life in the United States from coast to coast before settling in Baltimore, where he made a profound mark in architecture.

A founding member of the RTKL firm who brought a creative flair to his work, Mr. Kostritsky died July 30 at Brightview Towson of complications from the coronavirus. The Bolton Hill resident was 98.

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An urban design specialist, Mr. Kostritsky became the fourth and final initial partner of RTKL in 1961, joining Archibald Rogers, Francis Taliaferro and Charles Lamb. That same year, the firm was hired to design the Charles Center in Baltimore’s downtown business district.

Tom Gamper, a director at SM+P Architects, was a high school friend of Mr. Kostritsky’s son, Gyorgy, and later worked alongside the senior Kostritsky on architecture projects. Mr. Gamper called Mr. Kostritsky “a gentle soul” on the personal side and “a classic modernist” as a professional.

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“Even the smallest details when we worked together on a powder room, he would talk about the disposition of the room and how to make sure the lines were right for the mirror,” Mr. Gamper said. “[He was] always the teacher and he wasn’t going to let the young whippersnapper off the hook. Details, details — he loved details.”

At RTKL's Fells Point offices in July 2007, architect Priya Iyer walks past a hallway display that features initial members Archibald Rogers, Francis Taliaferro, Charles Lamb and George Kostritsky.
At RTKL's Fells Point offices in July 2007, architect Priya Iyer walks past a hallway display that features initial members Archibald Rogers, Francis Taliaferro, Charles Lamb and George Kostritsky. (JED KIRSCHBAUM / Baltimore Sun)

The only child of Russian immigrants, Eugene, a pilot during World War I, and Maria Popoff, a homemaker and union shop worker, Mr. Kostritsky moved with his family to San Francisco when he was 4 years old and went on to graduate there from Polytechnic High when he was 16.

He earned a bachelor of architecture degree at the University of California at Berkeley, where he served as president of the Student Architectural Association. After spending one year at Princeton University’s Graduate School of Architecture, he transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree in planning and urban design.

Mr. Kostritsky also served in the military, joining the Navy during World War II where he was stationed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as a Russian interpreter.

Transferred to Portsmouth, Virginia, he met his wife, Margaret Long Kostritsky, and they married in 1943 and stayed together until she died in 1991.

His architecture career started in New York City working for Mayer & Whittlesey and later included a two-year stint in Philadelphia, where he helped create a master design for the downtown area.

He came to Baltimore in 1957 and, while at RTKL, Mr. Kostritsky helped develop downtown projects in Baltimore; Albany, New York; Cincinnati; Eugene, Oregon; and Hartford, Connecticut.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Mr. Kostritsky was a United Nations Planning and Urban Design consultant in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria. While in Colombo, he created a comic strip “Jumbo Talk” for the local Sunday newspaper, in which he shared his impressions of Sri Lanka and its people.

Throughout the years, he also taught architecture at the University of Oregon and Harvard University and ended his professional career lecturing at Howard University in the early 1990s.

“I was lucky to have known him long enough that I got to see him in the height of his golden years and he loved Baltimore,” Mr. Gamper said. “I think what hits home a lot with me is the fact he is so much part of that heroic modernist school of architecture and [its] transformation.”

Mr. Kostritsky’s zest for life matched his passion for architecture, and that continued after he retired. In 1995, he met Sheila Hoffman during a Father’s Day brunch at the Engineers Club of Baltimore in Mount Vernon.

“The next day he called me and said what a nice conversation we had and asked me if I would like to go on a trip with him,” Ms. Hoffman said. “I asked, ‘Where would you like to go?’ He said ‘Paris, but how about the Eastern Shore?‘”

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The two became companions, sharing a home together in Bolton Hill, in which Ms. Hoffman still resides. They enjoyed gardening and Mr. Kostritsky enjoyed painting with watercolors.

For Ms. Hoffman, finding a Christmas present for him was never a problem due to his love for fedoras.

“He had a twinkle in his eye. He had a spontaneity about the way he did things that there was an artistic essence to him,” Hoffman said. “We would pick up flowers to work in the garden and he’d make his selection in a minute or so and 20 minutes later, I was still pondering. And then we’d get home with the plants and his always looked better. He had this unerring sense of design.”

Mr. Gamper is left inspired by Mr. Kostritsky.

“He led a remarkable life. I told Sheila that it reminded me of a movie called ‘Big Fish’ where you see this guy’s life and you say, ‘Really, did this all happen?’ And it all happened,” he said.

No services are planned at this time because of the pandemic.

In addition to Ms. Hoffman and his son, Gyorgy, of Timonium, survivors include one daughter, Juliet Kostritsky of Cleveland; one son-in- law, Bradford Gellert of Cleveland; and one grandson, Christopher Gellert of Paris.

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