Merry Norris, 80, a co-founder of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and a longtime pillar of Los Angeles’ arts and architecture world (as well as mother of Windsor Village resident and Imagine LA CEO Jill Bauman), passed away peacefully on Monday, March 16, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, of complications from pneumonia.
According to an obituary provided by Bauman:
Norris was born in Rochester, N.Y. to Eleanor and Colonel F. Gordon Wright (RFC/RAF). They moved to California in 1946. She graduated from San Marino High School and attended the University of California at Berkeley. She later received a Professional Designation in Interior Design from UCLA.
For more than 40 years, Norris was an art consultant to corporations, public institutions, and private collectors. These include the West Hollywood Public Library, the Andaz Hotel, UCLA, Los Angeles Center Studios, Los Angeles Central Library, and Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center.
A lifelong arts and architecture advocate, Norris dedicated her career to the cultural and built environment of Los Angeles. She was instrumental in the founding and funding of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). She later was appointed president of the Cultural Affairs Commission for the City of Los Angeles (1984-1990) by Mayor Tom Bradley. As president, she fervently led the commission to require high standards of architectural design for public and private buildings. She also was part of the taskforce that established the City of Los Angeles “percent for art” program. As Executive Director of the Gateway/LA Business Improvement District (1998-2001), Norris was a key part of the team that brought the now iconic LAX Gateway pylons (Paul Tzanetopoulos, artist) to life.
Norris was appointed to the board of trustees of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in 1987, where she served for over 30 years. She was a Founding Trustee for the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), as well as a board member of: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Associates, Project Restore (Los Angeles City Hall) and the Los Angeles Conservancy. She also served on the board of advisors of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Design.
In 1990, Norris became an Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA/LA). In 1995, she was the first person to be elected as a Public Member to the AIA chapter’s board of directors; she served for 14 years. In 2011, Norris was named an AIA/LA Presidential Honoree, the first designee as Design Advocate “in recognition for being a sublime design champion and public arts maverick.”
Norris was known for her head-turning style, fabulous white hair, irreverent wit, and contagious passion for leading-edge art and architecture. She had a remarkable eye for discerning and promoting emerging artists and architects, and she built an unparalleled collection of works by California contemporary artists, displayed magnificently at her home. She is survived by her two sisters, Barbara Crane (New Jersey) and Jonatha Dorman (England), three children, Jill Bauman, James Wiester and Joni Martino, and six grandchildren, Isabelle Bauman, James Bauman, Maiya Wiester, Nina Wiester, Ellie Martino and Christina Martino.
Although Norris most recently lived in the Hollywood Hills, Merry and her then-husband, the Hon. William A. “Bill” Norris, lived on June Street in Hancock Park for more than ten years in the 1970s and ’80s, and were members and team tennis players at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.
A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Norris’ honor may be made to the Merry Norris Scholarship Fund at SCI-Arc and to the Merry Norris Creativity Fund at ImagineLA.