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Robert Tennenbaum, early Columbia planner who added fancy lights to Baltimore’s Howard Street, dies

Robert “Bob” Tennenbaum, pictured in 2013, was responsible for Columbia’s 13,680-acre master plan based on preserving the natural environment.
Robert “Bob” Tennenbaum, pictured in 2013, was responsible for Columbia’s 13,680-acre master plan based on preserving the natural environment. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Robert “Bob” Tennenbaum, a retired city planner who was a pioneer in the development of Columbia and later worked to revive downtown Baltimore’s old shopping district, died of stroke complications Nov. 18 at Sinai Hospital. The Columbia resident was 84.

Born in Vienna a few years before the start of World War II, he was the son of Marcus Tennenbaum and his wife, Ernestine. He and his parents immigrated to New York City, where he grew up. He was a graduate of Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art, earned a bachelor’s degree the Pratt Institute School of Architecture and had a master’s degree from Yale University.

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He married Marcelle Simone Aiss in 1961 and settled in Washington. He was an urban designer for the National Capital Planning Commission before joining the Rouse Company in Baltimore to work on designing and developing Columbia. He was a chief architect-planner.

“My father was clever and a logical thinker,” said his daughter, Eve Margol of Olney. “He could always keep his emotions in check. He was a really good dad and no matter who you were, he took the time to listen to you. His heart was always in the right place.”

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Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, then 67, stands by two of his watercolor works, called, "Jerusalem I" and "Tsefat III," at the Slayton House Gallery in the Wilde Lake Village Center. His exhibit was called "Mediterranean Landscapes -- Expressions, Form, Color and Space."
Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, then 67, stands by two of his watercolor works, called, "Jerusalem I" and "Tsefat III," at the Slayton House Gallery in the Wilde Lake Village Center. His exhibit was called "Mediterranean Landscapes -- Expressions, Form, Color and Space." (Reid Silverman / Patuxent Publishing)

According to biographical notes he prepared, Mr. Tennenbaum was responsible for Columbia’s 13,680-acre master plan based on preserving the natural environment. He was additionally in charge of selecting 10 village locations, including village centers and nonresidential sites. After zoning was approved, he planned concepts for four early villages and architectural concepts for three village centers.

He also planned multifamily residential projects, and he designed his own midcentury modern home there.

He also directed a graduate community planning program at the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore.

Mr. Tennenbaum moved on to a new quasi-public Market Center Development Corp. in downtown Baltimore that focused on Lexington Market and Howard Street.

Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, who served as chief planner and architect for Columbia, edited and pieced together a book of essays, "Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective on the Making of a Model City." Tennenbaum flips through a copy of the 400-page book in 2017 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel.
Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, who served as chief planner and architect for Columbia, edited and pieced together a book of essays, "Columbia, Maryland: A Fifty-year Retrospective on the Making of a Model City." Tennenbaum flips through a copy of the 400-page book in 2017 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel. (Andrew Michaels/Baltimore Sun Media)

In his notes, he said numerous apartments were developed in 16 vacant historic buildings and new infill-buildings added throughout the area in the 1980s and 1990s. He designed a series of circular street lighting canopies over Howard Street and a glockenspiel-like attraction for an addition to Lexington Market.

He won first place for the design of the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition and wrote on the subject of planning.

He later became director of real estate development for the University of Maryland’s downtown Baltimore campus. He worked on the early stages of refurbishing the 1914 Hippodrome Theatre, once owned by the University of Maryland.

Mr. Tennenbaum was active in the Maryland chapter of the American Planning Association, and served as chapter president from 1978 through 1980, when a national convention was held in Baltimore.

Architect Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum fits stained glass created by Jacob Hains into windows at the Ahavas Israel synagogue under construction in Columbia in 1998.
Architect Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum fits stained glass created by Jacob Hains into windows at the Ahavas Israel synagogue under construction in Columbia in 1998. (Doug Kapustin / XX)

Mr. Tennenbaum donated his time as an architect and artist for the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Columbia. He designed a multiuse building for religious services and schoolrooms, including 23 stained glass windows.

In late 2016, ground was broken for the Jewish Discovery Pavilion, a modern building designed for education, religious services and community activities.

He painted in watercolors and acrylics, and exhibited in numerous galleries. His work is installed in the Baltimore Design School. He also donated 70 abstract city map paintings to the Howard County Library System.

He retired as an architect in January 2009. In 2013, he was elected by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects to be a member of its College of Fellows.

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Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, pictured in 2007, won first place for the design of the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Robert "Bob" Tennenbaum, pictured in 2007, won first place for the design of the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Andr F. Chung / Baltimore Sun)

After the 2009 death of his first wife, Marcelle, a Rouse Co. visual merchandiser, he married Suzon Weber, who died shortly before Mr. Tennenbaum did.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include another daughter, Ann Eisenberg of Jupiter, Florida; a stepson, Clifford Weber of Philadelphia; a sister, Ruth Shein of Pikesville; four grandsons; and two step-granddaughters.

Services were private.

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