Altadena Chamber names Mark Goldschmidt Citizen of the Year

by TImothy Rutt

The Altadena Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association has named a long-time planning and preservation activist as Altadena’s 2013 Citizen of the Year.

Altadena Heritage Chairman Mark Goldschmidt, a retired landscape architect, was named Altadena’s Citizen of the Year for his work on the town council’s Land Use Committee and as a board member and chairman of Altadena Heritage.  Goldschmidt’s honor is notable in that he is married to last year’s Citizen of the Year, local historian Michele Zack.

Goldschmidt, 67, has been active in Altadena Heritage as a board member and two-time chairman, as well as serving on the Altadena Town Council’s land use committee from 2007-2011.

Altadena Heritage describes itself as a “non-profit, volunteer-based advocacy organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and raising awareness of the rich architectural, environmental, and cultural heritage of our foothills community.”

Goldschmidt comes to his interest in place after a life of international travel.  Born in Berkeley and raised in Brentwood, Goldschmidt spent his early grade school years living in a hut in Uganda where his anthropologist father was doing field work.  “Later, we drove to Capetown in our 1953 VW microbus via the Congo and the Rhodesias. That’s what sparked lifelong interest in land and landscape,” Goldschmidt says.

He attended a French-speaking high school in Switzerland, took trains and hitchhiked around Europe on school holidays, and had unusual summer jobs his father would get him:  archeology in the Rift Valley in Kenya, spending a week at Olduvai Gorge, and a summer in Sweden on a Viking-era dig.

Goldschmidt graduated cum laude from UC Berkeley in architecture, and from Harvard Graduate School of Design in landscape architecture. After moving to Los Angeles in 1984,  he met his wife, Michele Zack, then a journalist.  They moved to Altadena in 1986, where they raised their daughter Natalie and he worked on landscape projects that included the Getty Villa, the Getty Museum, the Skirball Cultural Center, and the UCLA  Anderson School of Management.

The family moved to Thailand for eight years, where he designed resorts and resort landscapes all over Southeast Asia and the Seychelles, which Goldschmidt calls  “a rich, satisfying, and often terrifying experience.”

“There I was, living in this mess of a city in a little cul de sac in a residential neighborhood [in Bangkok], and it seemed that everyone complained but no one ever tried to get together to work out local problems with the streets, flooding, canals, crime, traffic, ugliness,” Goldschmidt said.

“I didn’t feel I could do anything, I didn’t belong to that community and  had a poor command of the language, but when Michele and I returned we both swore we would get involved in trying to improve our community.”

They returned to their Altadena home in 1998.  Goldschmidt worked at Disney and other offices in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  He also kept an office in Altadena where he designed gardens, pools and spas, mostly for private homes.

Goldschmidt joined Altadena Heritage about 2001, and has served on the board for 12 years.  He is currently coming to the end of his second stint as chairman.  When he became chair again in 2008, the organization had dwindled to 60 members and was in danger of going away altogether. Goldschmidt and other members revivified it into an organization that is not only concerned about Altadena’s architectural and historic heritage, but where the community is going in the future by sponsoring lectures, workshops, and meetings on everything from invasive pests to celebrations of Altadena’s unique neighborhoods.  Membership is now over 425.

Goldschmidt’s mark can be seen all over town: at the Old Marengo Pocket Park (which he designed pro bono); the Altadena Hillside Ordinance that tempers development on the hills; the Altadena Farmers’ Market, which Altadena Heritage sponsored and helped to get through the interminable county approvals; and in fond memories of Altadena’s 125th Anniversary Bash last year, where he served on the committee that threw together a community-wide celebration.  Currently, Goldschmidt serves on the Community Standards District Updating Committee.

“I’m really chuffed,” Goldschmidt says of his honor.  “I’m really humbled and complimented to be Citizen of the Year for Altadena.”