© Journal Sentinel files Whitney Gould was hired by The Milwaukee Journal in 1984 and became the Journal Sentinel’s architecture critic from 1995 until her retirement in 2007. Gould died over the weekend at her Milwaukee home.
Whitney Gould had the power to influence Milwaukee’s skyline.
As the influential urban landscape writer and architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and, after her 2007 retirement, a member of the City Plan Commission, Gould was instrumental in championing the Santiago Calatrava-designed pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum and opposing the original design of Discovery World.
If she didn’t like something, she had no problem saying that in person or through her columns, but in a very gracious way.
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“She was not shy about calling out something that looked awful,” said former Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger.
Gould, 76, died over the weekend at her 1889 Queen Anne Victorian home on Milwaukee’s east side.
Always dressed impeccably in matching ensembles, Gould’s grandmotherly appearance belied a fiercely independent, strong-willed woman. She loved visiting Milwaukee restaurants for lunches and dinners with friends where frequently the city’s movers and shakers stopped by her table to say hello.
Gould was “a person who enjoyed life from arts and culture to Stephen Colbert and silly, goofy YouTube videos. She had a deep, profound love of literature. She was a student of art,” said Kissinger. “But mostly she was a cheerful friend who cheered all of us on.”
Former Milwaukee Journal photographer Gary Porter traveled to Spain with Gould for a series of stories on Calatrava and some of his buildings in Europe. She later managed to get a sit-down interview with the busy architect.
“She didn’t mince her opinions. If there were buildings or new architecture going up, she wasn’t afraid to say she didn’t like it,” said Porter.
Gould really liked the art museum’s addition. In a 1996 column shortly after the design was released, she wrote:
“In these parts, there aren’t too many buildings that can take your breath away. Beautiful ones, yes. But they are mostly gasp-proof. The new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum is going to break the gasp barrier — and, with it, the lines between architecture, sculpture and landscape.”
And Gould really disliked the first design of Pier Wisconsin, now called Discovery World. Here’s what she wrote about the initial design in 2003:
“Like a generation of postmodern buildings whose historicist references were meant to honor our Old World architecture but cheapened it instead, Pier Wisconsin’s Calatrava wannabe stands to devalue the real thing, undermining the recent progress Milwaukee has made toward innovative design.”
Philanthropist Michael Cudahy, who chaired the Pier Wisconsin board, got so mad at Gould he refused to take her calls. The first design was eventually dropped in favor of something more scaled-back, said former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor Martin Kaiser, who frequently got calls from architects and builders about Gould’s columns.
“Whitney had a powerful influence on Milwaukee. Architects and builders admired and, at times, feared her reviews. She was a wonderful writer who brought tremendous experience to her work,” Kaiser said.
Gould was a native of Madison, the daughter of parents who were descendants of Wisconsin lumber baron families, according to a 2007 Milwaukee Magazine profile. She grew up in a prominent right-wing family. Her father was an engineer and libertarian Republican who died when Gould was a teenager; her mother was an English teacher who published short stories and essays in the Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post and worked as the Wisconsin State Journal’s art and drama critic.
© Journal Sentinel file photo Whitney Gould worked at The Milwaukee Journal and Journal Sentinel from 1984 to 2007 and was the paper’s influential urban landscape writer and architecture critic.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison she wrote a humor column called “Solid Gould” for The Daily Cardinal and graduated in 1965 with a double major in art history and German. She briefly attended Columbia University’s master’s program in art history and spent a year writing ad copy for J.C. Penney in New York.
She moved back to Wisconsin and was hired as a general assignment reporter for the Capital Times in Madison. She later became Madison’s first environmental reporter, covering efforts to ban the insecticide DDT.
Gould became close friends with Capital Times editor Elliott Maraniss and his wife Mary and became, in a way, a member of the family, recalled Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Maraniss.
“She was the other sibling. She was just a constant presence in our lives,” said Maraniss, an associate editor for The Washington Post. “She and my parents loved to talk about everything — from movies to books to politics.”
When Maraniss wrote a book published this year about the blacklisting of his dad, who was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, Gould read the draft of “A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father” and gave suggestions and advice.
He also sent her an early draft of his New York Times bestselling Vince Lombardi biography, “When Pride Still Mattered,” because “I wanted someone to read it who hated football and she was the perfect person for that.”
She was hired by The Milwaukee Journal in 1984 and spent more than a decade as an editorial writer, penning pieces on liberal issues and asking pointed questions. She asked U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, who was running for re-election and stopped at the Journal for an endorsement interview, whether he had a drinking problem. Kasten had been cited for driving the wrong way and was later convicted of drunken driving.
When the Journal and Sentinel merged in 1995, she started writing about architecture and urban planning. Gould had absolutely no interest in sports and frequently withstood good-natured ribbing from colleagues about her lack of knowledge of the Packers, Brewers, Bucks, Badgers or any other team.
“Whitney is one of the most brilliant and uniquely wonderful human beings I’ve ever met,” said Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley. “She loved meaningful conversations about any subject that could improve the quality of peoples’ lives. She overflowed with enthusiasm and good will. She treated everyone with respect and gave whoever she was conversing with her full attention — and that could be intimidating at times.”
After her retirement, she continued leading a very active life on the City Plan Commission, reading, playing the piano, visiting friends and listening to classical music.
“Whitney had many health issues in recent years and lots of time to consider her life,” said Kissinger. “She told me many times that she felt so lucky to have had such a rich life with dear friends and a rewarding career. Everything about her reflected that spirit.”
Gould is survived by her sister, Penny, and a niece.
Services are pending.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Influential former Journal Sentinel architecture critic Whitney Gould dies
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