Noah Teller Block, a lifetime seasonal resident of West Tisbury and a year-round resident for the past five years, died Feb. 22 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He was 76, and had suffered a stroke two years ago.
In the years before he retired to the Vineyard, Noah was a woodworker in New York City, with clients who included Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, actor Robert Redford, comedian Eddie Murphy, and fashion designer Liz Claiborne. He was the creator of Space Maker Modular Pillowed Furniture, comfortable and affordable designer furniture. For the 30 years before his retirement, he owned and operated the largest premier woodworking factory in New York City, the Building Block, on 30th Street and 11th Avenue.
Noah was born Oct. 13, 1938, in New York City, the second son of William and Sophia Teller Block. He was a graduate of Bryant High School in Queens and of New York University, where he majored in business. For a few years after his graduation, he was employed at J.C. Penney as a financial analyst, but since childhood, his heart had been in woodworking, and he gave up business as a career to indulge in his real love.
He opened a woodworking shop on the ground floor of a building on East 27th street in Manhattan, aptly named the Building Block, and before long, he was known as the “mayor of 27th Street,” because he knew everyone on the street, and enthusiastically welcomed them to watch him at work. In time, however, he needed more space for his woodworking, and with a partner, he opened a business they called the Space Block. Needing even more space, he moved into a 16,000-square-foot space with a new partner, and the Building Block was reborn.
When he was 10, Noah first came to the Vineyard after his mother had visited her brother, the author Walter Teller, at his summer home in Lobsterville. Sophie Block fell in love with the Island, and the following July, the Block family rented the Hariph Smith cottage at Menemsha. Noah was delighted to be among fishermen, and passed considerable time on the Menemsha docks, fishing himself and watching the grown-up fishermen come and go.
In 1953, his father bought the tall West Tisbury Music Street house of Addie Weeks, which had once been the West Chop lighthouse keeper’s house. From then on, Noah and his brother, Adam spent every July and August on the Island. Noah bicycled around West Tisbury and went on longer cycling expeditions to Gay Head and Edgartown with year-round Island friends. He swam with them in Jerry’s Pond, which is today’s Glimmerglass.
A few years after his first Music Street purchase, William Block expanded the family’s West Tisbury holdings by buying the house next door. It had belonged to master wheelwright Frank Adams, who was particularly famous for his decoys and weathervanes. Noah and his wife, Susan, renovated the house and made it their year-round home.
In his teenage Island summers, Noah had a wide variety of jobs. He hayed for Leonard Athearn in Chilmark; worked at Farmer Greene’s in North Tisbury; delivered garments for Oak Bluffs dry cleaner Harold Butler, and, most happily, learned something of the building trade from Roger Allen of Chilmark and baked brownies at Argie and Bernice Humphrey’s North Tisbury Bakery. On Wednesday and Saturday nights, whenever he could, he was at the Chilmark Tavern square dances. In later years, he returned to the Vineyard to spend Thanksgiving and summer holidays with his parents on Music Street. After his 1985 marriage to Susan Cotler, an associate professor of advertising and graphic design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, the couple continued that tradition.
Although his devotion to his work was almost all-consuming, Noah was a runner in his younger days, and a regular Music Street walker once he and his wife moved to the Vineyard. In addition to woodworking, science was also a major interest, and on the terrace of his and his wife’s 27th Street and Lexington Avenue apartment, he set up a telescope, and many a clear night the couple would be outdoors while Noah would study the stars. After they came to the Vineyard, a clear-night delight was exploring the heavens through the same telescope set up in their Music Street backyard. In New York, their terrace, in addition to being the ideal spot for stargazing, also afforded a splendid view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Whenever the Blocks were in the city for the Fourth of July, their terrace was just the right place for enjoying the fireworks in the days when they were set off over the East River.
Noah Block is survived by his wife of 30 years, Susan; his brother Adam of Reston, Va.; a niece, Jennifer Cromheecke of Western Springs, Ill.; a nephew, Adrian Block of Hartsdale, N.Y, and his cousins, Rafe Teller of Chilmark and Walter S. Teller of New York City and Chilmark; David of Derby Line, Vt., and Joseph Teller of Peterborough, N.H.
A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced.
Contributions in his memory may be made to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, 111 Edgartown Rd., Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.