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Women's History Month: Remembering Bergen, Passaic's Eleanore Pettersen

Passaic-born Eleanore Pettersen was a pioneer in the field of architecture
Passaic-born Eleanore Pettersen was a pioneer in the field of architecture Photo Credit: AIA Archives
Kimberly Bunn is the past president of the American Institute of Architects' New Jersey chapter
Kimberly Bunn is the past president of the American Institute of Architects' New Jersey chapter Photo Credit: Contributed

PASSAIC, N.J..– Passaic-born Eleanore Pettersen was a pioneer. A shepherd of sorts.

“She brought fellowship and mentorship and dedication to architecture," said Kimberly Bunn, past president of the American Institute of Architecture's New Jersey chapter. "I'm following in her footsteps."

Bunn works with Girl Scouts and students – at schools such as NJIT and Kean University – who are interested in the field.

“They need a mentor, and that’s something I like to do," Bunn told Daily Voice. "[I'm] tying it back to Eleanore Pettersen. That’s something she was known for doing: shepherding people into the profession.”

After studying under Frank Lloyd Wright, Pettersen became New Jersey's first female licensed architect and the first woman to open her own private practice, which was located in Saddle River.

“More women are now getting into the profession. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that was very uncommon," Bunn said. "She was leading the way, forging ground. She created a legacy.”

The practice opened in 1952 and remained in operation for the next five decades.

One of Pettersen's best-known projects was a 15-room Saddle River home on a four-acre plot – with a pool and tennis court – which she designed in 1971.

The owner sold the home to Richard Nixon, who moved into it in 1981.

Four years later, Pettersen became the first female president of AIA-NJ – three decades before Bunn, who was brought into AIA-NJ by Pettersen's friend Robin Murray, assumed the role.

Pettersen, who died in 2003 at the age of 86, was posthumously awarded the Michael Graves Lifetime Achievement Award .

Residents of the single and multi-family homes Pettersen built can feel the deceased architect's influence, Bunn said.

“Isn’t that a legacy when the person is not around, you still know about them and what they did?" Bunn said.

Images of Pettersen's work can be found here .

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