Hagop Artin Kitabjian, 88, an Armenian architect who designed many well-known Philadelphia buildings and was a devoted supporter of the immigrant community that nurtured him, died Wednesday, July 7, at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery from complications of a recent fall.
Born in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 1932 to Harutune Kitabjian and Nergiz Minassian, Mr. Kitabjian did not seem destined for a life of abundance.
The grandson of victims of the Turkish genocide of 1915 against Armenians, he was 3 when he lost his father to illness and 18 when his mother died due to an accident. Sickness took his four sisters when they were young.
Raised largely by his older brother, Garbis, Mr. Kitabjian was committed to church and his studies.
Despite excelling in high school and college, he had planned to become a silversmith like his brother. His college professors, however, had other ideas. They insisted he pursue graduate studies in the United States. So after getting his bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from American University at Beirut, Mr. Kitabjian earned a master’s degree in architectural engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.
He later met Pamela Zartarian, a shy American-born Armenian nursing student, during an Armenian choral group rehearsal. A couple of years later in 1961, he asked her to dance at an Armenian youth group Christmas party. One spin around the floor led to many others. They got married in 1963 and raised three children.
Mr. Kitabjian became a registered architect in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and served as chief architect for Astra Zeneca. His structural legacy includes residential high-rises like The Philadelphian near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Penn Towers, and Park City West. He also designed buildings on the campuses of Grove City College, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, Widener University, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary.
As committed as Mr. Kitabjian was to professional excellence, his deepest passion was for the faith and the Armenian culture that was the core of his identity.
“My Main Purpose in Life,” Mr. Kitabjian once wrote, “was my strong desire to serve the Armenian Church & the Armenian Community.”
He built bridges between his church, culture, and the community by forming new institutions and supporting existing ones.
In addition, he taught Sunday school and the Armenian language and history for 25 years. He became a founding member of the Armenian Sisters Academy, a private school; the Knar Armenian Choral Group; and the Armenian Inter-Communal Committee of Philadelphia, a community-building organization. He also was active in the Knights of Vartan, an Armenian philanthropic group, and the Ararat Song and Dance Ensemble, and gave many lectures on Armenian architecture, poetry, and music.
Mr. Kitabjian’s efforts were on behalf of the local Armenian community, but they were also personal, said son David Kitabjian.
“The only family he had here was the Armenian community. They became his home, they became his people,” his son said. “That’s where he found his wife. That’s where he found everything that became his life except for his job. He had a personal interest in nurturing the community that nurtured him.”
At the same time, he was grateful for his adopted land and the opportunities it afforded him.
“He loved this country. He constantly praised it,” his son said. “He said this is the greatest country in the world.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Kitabjian is survived by his other children, Sona Kitabjian and Paul Kitabjian; six grandchildren; and other relatives.
Visitation will be from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 23, at SS. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church, 630 Clothier Rd., Wynnewood, Pa. 19096. A funeral will follow at 10:30 a.m. Interment will be at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.
Donations in Mr. Kitabjian’s memory may be made to the Armenian Sisters Academy at 440 Upper Gulph Rd., Radnor, Pa. 19087 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org or to SS. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church, 630 Clothier Rd., Wynnewood, Pa. 19096 or online at email@example.com.