Albert Reichmann, Patriarch of a Real Estate Empire, Dies at 93
Albert Reichmann, the billionaire patriarch of a real estate dynasty that built the World Financial Center, became the largest private owner of commercial property in New York City, and began the transformation of London’s derelict Docklands into the gleaming Canary Wharf cluster of skyscrapers, died on Dec. 17 in Toronto, the family’s hometown. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by his grandson Robert S. Reichmann.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish sons of a rabbi who fled Vienna with his wife and children in 1938 as the Nazis were poised to plunge Europe into war, Mr. Reichmann and his brothers were estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth nearly $10 billion before their real estate empire, Olympia & York Developments, plunged into bankruptcy in 1992. After drowning in debt as the London real estate property market collapsed, the Reichmanns reconstituted a multibillion-dollar portfolio, O & Y Properties, which they sold to Brookfield Properties in 2005.
Albert’s mother helped concentration camp inmates and refugees during World War II and he followed in her philanthropic footsteps by supporting Jewish schools and religious institutions around the globe, primarily in Israel, Hungary and the former Soviet Union.
“Albert’s avuncular temperament was better suited to giving away money than making it,” Anthony Bianco wrote in “The Reichmanns: Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York” (1996).
Paul Reichmann, who died in 2013, was widely seen as the company’s ambitious, perhaps hubristic, deal maker. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally recruited him to reinvent the Docklands. Albert was more focused on administration, construction and other internal workings of the family firm as it expanded in North America and Britain.
“Once, during a rare appearance at a country club reception for a visiting Israeli dignitary,” Mr. Bianco wrote, “Albert managed to evade news photographers by hiding behind a column for two hours and then walking out backwards. And Albert was supposed to be the outgoing one!”
Albert Reichmann was born in Vienna on Jan. 18, 1929. His father, Samuel, was a Hungarian-born exporter of eggs who had moved to Austria in 1928. His mother was Renée (Gestetner) Reichmann.
After the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany, Samuel transferred his bank accounts to London and converted his assets into gold, which he used to finance the family’s escape.
The Reichmanns moved to Paris and then to Tangiers, where Samuel became a currency trader. His wife led the family in packaging and forwarding food and other necessities to concentration camp inmates in Europe during World War II, via the Spanish Red Cross. The family’s home in Tangiers became a sanctuary for other refugees.
Albert was mostly home-schooled, his grandson said.
He married Egosah Feldman, a Romanian immigrant who taught school, in Israel in the mid-1950s. In 1959, the couple moved to Toronto. She died this year.
Mr. Reichmann is survived by their four children, Philip and David Reichmann, Bernice Koenig and Libby Gross; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and his youngest brother, Ralph, his only surviving sibling.
By the time Albert arrived in Toronto, two of this brothers, Edward and Louis, had established Olympia Floor & Wall Tile in Montreal, and his brother Ralph was in charge of the tile company’s Toronto affiliate. His brother Paul was running a property-development affiliate in Toronto.
With about $40,000 from his father, Albert formed York Factory Developments to build warehouses. In 1964, at their father’s urging, the brothers merged the companies into Olympia & York Industrial Development. A global real estate behemoth was born that would make the Reichmanns one of the world’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families.
Among the projects they built were Exchange Place in Boston, the Olympia Center in Chicago and the 72-story First Canadian Place in Toronto, which was the tallest building in Canada when it opened in 1975.
The World Financial Center, designed by Cesar Pelli, was built by Olympia & York across the street from the original World Trade Center. It is now known as Brookfield Place, after the company that bought the property.
John E. Zuccotti, a former New York deputy mayor who was named president of Olympia & York (U.S.A.) in 1989, became chairman of Brookfield in 1996.
In the late 1970s, while New York City was still reeling from its brush with municipal bankruptcy, the Reichmanns gobbled up some 10 million undervalued square feet of office space. That audacious gamble elevated them to the status of, as The Washington Post put it, the “Rothschilds of Canadian realty.”
As the city’s economy rebounded, the return on that investment helped finance other projects, including the World Financial Center and the riskier rehabilitation of the Docklands in London, which eventually proved to be an enormous commercial success .for its developers and investors — including the Reichmanns, who managed to renew a stake in the venture.
“There have been two great real estate deals in the history of New York,” Meyer S. Frucher, chief executive of the Battery Park City Authority, the state agency that owns the land under the World Financial Center, told The New York Times in 1987. “The first was when the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan. The second was when the Canadians bought the island again.”