Tag Archives: Mimi Levitt

Remembering Mimi Levitt

Annemarie “Mimi” Gratzinger Levitt — patron of the arts and historic preservation, longtime Westporter, and the namesake (with her husband) of the pavilion and organization that has provided free summer entertainment here for over 40 years — died of natural causes earlier today, in New York. She was 97.

Mimi Levitt

The Levitt Foundation sends this obituary:

Known for her intelligence, grace and hands-on approach to philanthropy and activism, Mimi believed in the arts as a source for positive social change and left a lasting legacy of generosity and service to the causes she supported.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Mimi’s childhood was filled with opera and other musical experiences. She emigrated to the United States with her mother at the outbreak of World War II, and soon after attended Pomona College in California. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in French iterature.

Fluent in 5 languages, she was a translator at the Nuremberg trials. I

n 1947, she became senior assistant to Alfred Barr, Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She met rags-to-riches clothier and The Custom Shop founder Mortimer Levitt (1907-2005) at a Manhattan art gallery opening, where they had a spirited debate over a painting (Mimi favored abstraction; Mortimer preferred realism).

Following a brief courtship, they married on June 18, 1948, and together became philanthropists supporting youth music programs, performing arts organizations and educational institutions. Mimi and Mortimer were known for nurturing the careers of aspiring young musicians by hosting salons at their Manhattan brownstone.

An imaginative and meticulous hostess, Mimi threw memorable charity events and family celebrations. She often opened her home to artists and musicians.

In 1963, Mimi and her husband established the Mortimer Levitt Foundation (renamed the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation in 2012 in honor of her contributions). The main focus is to empower communities nationwide to transform underused public spaces into welcoming destinations through the power of free, live music. It now supports free outdoor concerts in 26 towns and cities.

The first Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts opened in Westport in 1974, the result of a community-driven effort to create an outdoor music venue as a community gathering place in the heart of town. As summer residents of Westport, the Levitts gave seminal support to the project and became the campaign’s largest private contributors.

Mimi served on the Levitt Pavilion board for decades, helping the nonprofit flourish and become a community treasure. Following her husband’s passing in 2005, Mimi became president of the Levitt Foundation and supported the growth of the Levitt program nationwide. In 2011, she was honored at the Westport Arts Awards as a “Champion of the Arts.”

Well into her 90s, she attended many Levitt Pavilion events.

The Levitt Pavilion is a Westport treasure. (Drone photo/Dave Curtis, HDFA Photography.com)

An active and loyal benefactor of the Bard Music Festival, Mimi served on the board of directors for 15 years (1998-2013), and for many years underwrote the Festival’s annual opening night dinner. An avid lover of opera, she supported opera workshops in the Conservatory’s Vocal Arts Program directed by Dawn Upshaw and helped commission one act operas. She also funded scholarships for Conservatory students and started the first endowment for the Bard

Music Festival in 2005.

Mimi was also passionately committed to historic preservation. In the 1970s she spearheaded the Neighborhood Association to Preserve Fifth Avenue Houses that successfully championed the creation of the Metropolitan Museum Historic District in New York City, designated in 1977. Her involvement grew from concern about protecting the distinctive character of her Upper East Side neighborhood, which in the 1970s was undergoing significant change.

She was one of the earliest supporters of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and served on its board from 1978-2014. Mimi was honored by the Conservancy in 2011 for her 30 years of service.

Mimi Levitt

In 1995, Mimi and her husband donated 564 acres of wildlife habitat near Half Moon Bay to the Peninsula Open Space Trust in Marin County, California. The second largest gift in the county’s history, it provides an invaluable boost to ecological conservation efforts.

Together with Mortimer, Mimi also supported the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Mercy College, Museum of Television and Radio, New York City Opera, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park Conservancy, The Joyce Theater, New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center’s Film Society, Hunter College, Music Center of Los Angeles, School of American Ballet, American Red Cross, and Young Concert Artists. She was a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Drug Addiction under Mayor Koch, a former trustee of the Town School in Manhattan and the Branch Libraries of the New York Public Library, and a children’s literacy volunteer in Harlem.

A beloved mother, aunt, step-grandmother and step-great-grandmother, Mimi cherished her family and their time together. She is survived by her daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Levitt Hirsch of Los Angeles,who now serves as board president of the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, and her son, Peter Levitt of New York, who also serves on the Levitt Foundation board.

A private funeral will be followed by a public memorial service, to take place at a later date. For details regarding the public memorial, please email memorial@levitt.org. In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Mimi may be made to the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.

Levitt Pavilion, before the crowds (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Jose Feliciano, Mimi Levitt Launch New Pavilion

Saying “I look forward to returning for years to come,” 93-year-old Mimi Levitt shined with excitement as she welcomed Westport’s newest jewel: the refurbished Levitt pavilion.

The $9 million public/private project — propelled by a $4.5 million grant from the Levitt Foundation — represents a complete overhaul of an already intriguing downtown attraction.

With a soaring, sail-inspired, state-of-the-art stage; a killer sound system; amenities like dressing rooms, food concessions, ramps and restrooms — plus a completely renovated riverwalk that now extends all the way to the point behind the pavilion — this Levitt marks the 2nd transformation of a former landfill.

Parks and Rec, politicians, architects and construction folks all took their bows.

Then Jose Feliciano took over. His kick-butt show is just the start of a summer filled with entertainment.

And there was not a mosquito in sight.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The lawn was full -- but there was plenty of room to relax.

The lawn is full — but there’s still plenty of room to relax.

Mimi Levitt -- 93 years young -- and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Mimi Levitt — 93 years young — and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Dancing in the aisle, to Jose Feliciano.

Dancing on the grass, to Jose Feliciano.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion's success.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion’s success.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

Honoring Our Arts

The Westport calendar is filled with little events that should be big ones.

They’re the ones you vaguely hear about before they happen.  Afterward, someone tells you how great it was to be there.  You vow you’ll go next year — but don’t.

The Westport Arts Awards is one of those you-really-shouldn’t-miss events.  This year’s 18th annual ceremony is Sunday, October 23 (2 p.m., Town Hall).  If you want to see all that’s right with this town — its long-time residents, its young people, its support of creativity and achievement — save the date right now.

The event honors artists in 4 disciplines — music, film/theater, visual arts and literature — as well as 3 young people, 2 Westporters who work quietly in the background, and 6 local artists who died this year.

Miggs Burroughs

You should go to the ceremony if for no other reason than to pay tribute to Miggs Burroughs.  For 4 decades, the 1963 Staples grad has shared his graphic design talents — often gratis — with countless area organizations.

The Westport town flag; Levitt Pavilion, Westport Historical Society, Westport Y, Project Return logos; every First Night button; t-shirts for local races — all are Miggs’ creations.

That’s in addition to his postage stamps, Time Magazine covers, lenticular images, cable TV show…  No wonder Miggs has earned the “Mollie Award,” named for the indefatigable arts advocate Mollie Donovan.

Mimi Levitt

Speaking of the Levitt Pavilion, Mimi Levitt will receive the “Champion of the Arts” award.  The Austrian native — who served as a translator at the Nuremberg war trials — was, with her husband, a major benefactor of the outdoor performing arts center when it was founded on the Saugatuck River in 1973.  She still serves on its governing committee.

The Arts Awards span all ages, from 90-year-old Mimi Levitt to a trio who are just beginning what will be spectacular careers.

Drew McKeon

“Horizon Awards” — to emerging artists under 32 — will be presented to drummer Drew McKeon (he’s toured with Hall & Oates and Jimmy Buffett, and played off-Broadway); filmmaker Nick Ordway (whose “God of Love” earned an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short), and dancer Katrina Gould (she’s performed with the Boston and Los Angeles Ballet companies).

Lifetime Achievement Awards will go to Naiad Einsel (art), Hans Wilhelm (literature), Millette Alexander (music), and Maureen Anderman and Frank Converse (theater/film).

Six names will be added to the Heritage Honor Roll.  Sculptor Stanley Bleifeld, violist Keith Conant, artist Tony Marino, architect Abe Rothenberg, author Max Wilk — and of course uber-volunteer Mollie Donovan — all passed away recently.

If you think the Westport Arts Awards are a dull, stand-up-and-give-a-speech affair:  think again.

These are creative people.  There are short videos, along with brief dance and music presentations.

And, of course, a reception afterward.

The Westport Arts Awards are Westport at its best.

Its artistic, musical, theatrical, literary — and very, very talented — best.