Artist Robert Miles Parker died on April 17, in New York, at the age of 72 from AIDS-related causes.

Years ago, when he lived in San Diego, he found a crumbling Victorian house slated for demolition and decided to save it from the wrecking ball. He made a sketch of the house and placed signs around the neighborhood with his phone number. Soon he was flooded with calls from people who wanted to see the Gilbert House preserved.

Parker's Original Sketch
Parker’s Original Sketch to draw attention an old house he wanted to save.

From such odd beginnings, SOHO, the Save Our Heritage Foundation, began and it has labored for decades to keep architectural treasures from being torn down.

Parker didn’t intend to be an activist, but in San Diego, 40 years ago, it didn’t take too much to stand out from the herd. He found he had as many friends interested in SOHO as there were developers who hated him. His log of successes includes many buildings we enjoy now. The Villa Montezuma still stands because of Parker. So does the Santa Fe Railroad Station. The houses in Old Town’s Heritage Park were moved there because SOHO got the necessary support. The Gilbert House was the first to be put there in 1969. The resulting museum of houses has become an added draw for tourists for nearly a half century.

Eventually, Parker found the peace of mind in New York City that eluded him in San Diego. New York is a place where eccentrics can breathe deeply and freely. Parker soon documented urban landscapes including images of the theater district as well as historic houses and other buildings of interest.

Parker was known for his pen-and-ink work as much as for paintings; and he built a network of collectors whose interest afforded him the opportunity to go where he wanted in a minivan and draw whatever caught his eye. His work was published widely and he eventually drew a book called Images of American Architecture that further burnished his notoriety. His drawings, while whimsical and engaging, underlie a powerful message; that even an artist skilled in sketches can move people to make things happen.

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Story and photos provided by The Espresso which is available in print at coffee shops throughout San Diego county. For more information about SOHO and for photos of the Sherman-Gilbert House please follow the links above.

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