William Zeckendorf, Jr.

February 15th, 2014 § 2 comments

William Zeckendorf, Jr., real estate developer and philanthropist, died recently in Santa Fe. Born in New York, son of the legendary, flamboyant developer William Zeckendorf, Sr., Bill was a quiet, cerebral version of his father. But, like his father, he took big financial risks resulting in major ups and downs. The sons of Bill, Jr. are real estate titans in New York these days, developing and selling condominiums at astronomical prices (they recently sold a $40,000,000 condo in a building they developed on Central Park West). Bill, Jr. hired HG (late 70’s or early 80’s in HG’s memory) to thwart community opposition and publicize a risky development–a 33-story condominium tower on the northwest corner of 96th Street and Broadway called The Columbia. Lots of development plans for the site had failed. This was before the West Side became a fashionable address for the upwardly mobile and Broadway still contained many nocturnal hookers and quite a few outdoor drug markets. HG met with officials of the local elementary schools and worked out an arts program for the construction fence of the condo. Sixth and seventh grade students used the fence as a revolving art show painting pictures on themes like “My dream home”, “Favorite New York building,” “My hero,” etc. HG organized a jury of community luminaries (including some anti-development firebrands) and prizes were awarded monthly for best efforts. It all received loads of publicity and TV coverage and focused attention on the development as a family friendly and community involved environment. The condos sold quickly and Bill, Jr. went on to do major developments on Union Square, Eighth Avenue and other locations until getting whacked by financing disasters. HG always enjoyed his New York business meetings with Bill, Jr. They took place at the Sparks Steak House. Bill, Jr. thought the steak house had the best wine list in town and introduced HG to many splendid vintages. HG has delicious taste memories of cabernet from the Jordan winery in California. Bill, Jr. was a member of the distinguished wine lovers association, Confrerie des Chevaliers du Testavin. He inherited his wine love from his father. William Zeckendorf, Sr. headed the Webb & Knapp real estate firm with headquarters on midtown Madison Avenue. Its conference room was a circular space on the top floor of the building. That’s where William, Sr. hosted his legendary business lunches. HG was present at one (in 1962 or 1963, a few years before Webb & Knapp went bankrupt in 1965). HG was present because HG had been hired to do a publicity project for Mile High Center, a W & K development in Denver. As usual, a superb French wine was served at lunch (by a quite formal butler). The majority of the luncheon guests were concerned bankers and others who were owed a great deal of money by Zeckendorf. One of the bankers sipped his wine. “Say, Bill, this is great wine. How much would a bottle of this good stuff cost?” Zeckendorf stated the price. The banker blanched. The others at the table looked shocked. Yes, William Zeckendorf may have been going bankrupt but he never lowered his wine drinking standards.

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§ 2 Responses to William Zeckendorf, Jr."

  • HG put art on the construction walls for Zeck’s edifice on the corner of 96th/B’way. I only wish the developer had put a dollop of art into the building. It was, and is, a klunky, charmless oversized pile, devoid of any visual pleasure. Would that the Zeckendorfs had used even a fraction of their taste in wine in the design of this building. I don’t know who the architect was, but shame on that person!

    • Gerry says:

      Yes, Peter, The Columbia is somewhat LeFrak-y tacky. However, the views from the upper floors are spectacular. And, anyone who bought there early saw their apartment reach amazing market value.

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