Gerald (Jerry) Bruce Olanoff was born on December 11, 1952 to
Martin Olanoff and the present Mildred Zimmerman. He grew
up on Long Island and later in Queens before attending Yale,
where he graduated in 1974. He moved to Manhattan, where
he met his partner, Ron Csuha, now an artist (see roncsuha.
com). Jerry then pursued a master’s degree in architecture at
Columbia University, receiving it in 1977. During those three
years, Jerry became active in the National Gay Task Force.
Jerry spent several years working at the firm of Philip Johnson
and John Burgee but was not satisfied with his progress as an
architect there. He moved to Davis, Brody & Associates in 1979.
Here Jerry was much more comfortable. He became project
architect for the design of new conservatories and the
renovation of the old conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic
Garden, completed in 1988. He was also a project architect for
the renovation of the old Bird House at the Bronx Zoo, but had
to leave this when he was no longer able to work because of
While working for Davis, Brody, he was also able to design
apartment renovations and homes for private clients in New
York, Massachusetts, and in the Pines on Fire Island. Several
renovations were completed, and five of the homes were built in
a modern style using traditional materials of wood and stone to
achieve large double-height spaces to serve as living rooms.
The plans for the design of these houses are archived at the
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia
Jerry was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and started getting
major health problems in 1991. Davis, Brody was very
supportive of gay architects, and luckily Olanoff was able to
continue working longer than most because of this support.
Even after his diagnosis, Jerry was made an associate of the
firm. On April 3, 1994, Jerry was featured in a New York Times
article on the effect of AIDS on architecture firms, "AIDS and
the Practice of Architecture," written by his friend David W.
Dunlap. He was also was quoted in Dunlap's, "Recession Is
Ravaging Architectural Firms," The New York Times, May 17,
In the early 1980s, Jerry had begun working with others to
create a community center for the New York City gay
community and finally realized his dream in 1983, when these
founders formed the Lesbian and Gay Community Services
Center in Greenwich Village. Jerry then headed the
architecture committee to deal with design problems in the
building acquired by the Center, the former Food and Maritime
High School on West 13th Street, NYC. Jerry guided the 1991
award-winning facade renovation.* He guided the design of the
building’s first major overhaul, which began in 1995, but did
not live to see its completion.
Jerry was an outspoken activist who disliked having had to
hide his identity, so much so that his life seemed to be truly
embodied by the ACT UP slogan “Silence = Death.” He was
highly indignant at the ways gays were treated during his life.
Chief among these was the way the family of a deceased
partner could legally confiscate assets of his or her gay union,
necessitating a will to protect the surviving partner. Though he
was an activist, he was not a member of ACT UP, but greatly
appreciated its work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he and
his partner Ron marched regularly with ACT UP in the annual
Gay Pride Parade.
Jerry died on October 22, 1995 from AIDS-related
complications. He was 42 years old.
Bollack, Françoise, "Project: The Lesbian and Gay Community
Services Center, Facade Restoration," in Cantor, Steven L.,
Contemporary Trends in Landscape Architecture, Wiley,
Françoise Bollack, Françoise Bollack Architects – Public Works,
(New York, Lulu Publications, ISBN 978-1-105-63228-0), P.?
Contemporary Trends in Landscape Architecture - Page 56