Malibu East's 45th anniversary party honors architect

Posted on Fri, 07/01/2016 - 11:30am

By Tracy Poyser

John MacsaiWhat better testimonial to our vibrant, multigenerational condo family than a rousing 45th anniversary party, especially with our building’s venerable architect, John Macsai, as the guest of honor! At 90 – double the age of our building – Macsai’s vibrant spirit and ironic humor are testimony to a remarkable life of genuine passion for his craft (more about him later).

Our equally venerable Windjammer Room was packed to capacity on June 11, a fine spring evening. The festivities brought together original owners and Malibu East newbies to reminisce and raise a cheer to all that makes our 45-year-old building special. Organized by our tireless Board member and Social Committee chair Sandy Chaet, a great many people made sure that this would be a memorable party.

Larry Rosen designed the party invitation; property manager Violette Deschamps and her assistant, Lynda Hughes, coordinated support from the office; maintenance staffers Armando, Victor and many of their colleagues helped with setup, lighting and decorations; our resident DJ Dominic Wayne created an entertaining slide show of our building’s history from materials supplied by Chaet and Neil Warner and kept the music lively; Tom Vaughan and Warner created the plaque for our architect; Devin Moss, Marcia Fishman and Deschamps kept the wine flowing as bartenders; Aida Calvopina tended the buffet line; and Marcel Molins gave a thoughtful and heartfelt presentation to Macsai.

A very special thanks to one of our original owners, renowned architect Roula Alakiotou-Borenstine, who helped us connect with our special guest, Macsai, and his delightful wife, Gerry, and looked after their comfort throughout the evening.

Party participants were encouraged to wear stick-on name tags with their unit number and the year they moved to Malibu East – a nice way to facilitate conversation, especially for those of us who tend to forget names and are embarrassed to ask people we’ve seen in the elevator for umpteen years. Next, armed with liquid libations from wine and bubbly to soft drinks, we enjoyed a lavish hot and cold appetizer buffet with a great variety of offerings, including desserts, many of which had been contributed by neighbors. That made for a delicious mix of ethnic and more traditional dishes in keeping with the United Nations flavor of our community.

After the first hour of socializing and munching, our “mistress of ceremonies” (Chaet) launched into the presentation part of the evening. She began by asking the original owners to step forward and introduce themselves. Malibu East’s 45-year veterans included Roula Alakiotou-Borenstine, Marian Davis, Bobbie DeFrancesca, Dennis Delavara, Eleida Gomez, Adeline Kalant, Martina and Marcel Molins, Joseph Montgomery, Avany and George Penaherrera, Liliana Ristic, Vilma and Vacius Scerba, Joan Scholl, Nancy and Fred Stoesser, and Kathy Strauss. The remaining original owners unfortunately couldn’t join us: Carrie Cohen, Jean and Fritz Gaertner, Constance Montgomery, Inge and George Nimitz, Clara Pate, Anna and Erkan Sayrun, and Betty and Percy Smith. We hope they were with us in spirit.

A brief, lively slide presentation followed, featuring photos from Malibu East’s early days to the present. Some of them caused quite a bit of hilarity when residents spotted their youthful selves in those shots from long ago when the men still had all their hair.

The highlight of the evening was Board president Marcel Molins’ presentation of a special recognition award to our building’s renowned architect, Macsai. Molins reflected on all the merits and features of our building, and how much Macsai’s inspired design and sound construction specifications contributed to the excellent quality of life for our residents from day one. Aided by vice president Vaughan, Molins presented our architect with the following certificate of appreciation:

“Malibu East Condominium recognizes and thanks John Macsai.

“At the 45th anniversary of Malibu East Condominium, its residents salute the building’s architect, John Macsai, for his Architectural Design Excellence. During the chaotic infancy of condominium development in Chicago, Mr. Macsai applied discipline, order and good design principles that have withstood time and design trends. Malibu East residents are proud of their building and hereby recognize Mr. Macsai’s important contribution to their quality of life.

“Presented with unanimous agreement by the Board of Directors, June 11, 2016.”

Before getting to Macsai’s acceptance comments, here’s a bit more about his background and life from a long, interesting article by Tal Rosenberg in the March 31 issue of the Chicago Reader entitled “John Macsai’s architecture by accident” (the article is available online at

Born John Lusztig in Budapest, Hungary, on May 20, 1926, Macsai had a love for drawing and art that started in early childhood, and in 1944 he graduated from what is now the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Having survived the Holocaust and faced with residual anti-Semitism in Hungary, he changed his last name to Macsai in 1946, after the town of his ancestry. With communism threatening Hungary, Macsai applied for and was awarded a scholarship in the United States by the Hillel Foundation in 1947, and he got a job at Chicago architecture firm Holabird & Root straight out of college. From there, he joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was a partner at Hauser & Macsai from 1955-71, and his own firm from 1975-90. A pioneer in residential high-rise development, Macsai designed a number of famous Chicago buildings in addition to Malibu East, including Lincolnwood’s iconic purple Hyatt Hotel, 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive, the Waterford Condominiums, and Harbor House at 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive. He finally retired in 2000 but stayed vitally involved in his profession. He and Gerry have been married for 66 years and live in Evanston. They have three daughters and a son.

In spite of his physical frailty at 90, John has a twinkle in his eye and a lively sense of humor. His stories and reminiscences after receiving his certificate of appreciation turned the audience into an instant fan club. He was clearly moved by the fact that his vision for our building – one of the early condo high-rises in Chicago – had come true. He had wanted it to be a place where people cared for each other, brought up children and enjoyed pets, grew old, and could exercise, play and socialize.

He had to fight quite a few battles with the original developers, Dunbar Builders. “Too many tightwads who wanted to go cheap” and, as he colorfully put it, made the architects “urinate blood.” “They don’t want to spend money, even if it’s spent well,” he mused, commenting that other buildings where shortcuts were made out of greed often paid the price later. It wasn’t always easy to stick to his guns, but he and his team of architects/engineers put a lot of energy into making our building attractive and functioning well. The wood paneling in our Billiard Room actually came from the old appellate court building on Lake Shore Drive.

We could have listened to Macsai’s stories for much longer, but he relinquished the microphone after speaking for several minutes, citing his age and the need for his beauty sleep. Both John and his Gerry were clearly touched by the joy and gratitude our residents expressed, and they later left the party to lively applause.

The last “official act” of the evening was the cutting of a delicious birthday cake for the building, ably executed by Aida Calvopina, who had also contributed a lovely mousse dessert. And our DJ made sure that his music selection got people dancing.

The happy faces in our photos speak louder than words. I sure hope all of us will be around for the golden anniversary in 2021!