The Real Deal New York

Durst Organization Chairman Douglas Durst
Durst Organization Chairman Douglas Durst

Douglas Durst

By Lauren Elkies

Co-president of the Durst Organization, New York City building owner and developer since 1915.

What is your full name?
Douglas David Durst.

When is your birthday?
December 19, 1944.

Where did you grow up?
Scarsdale.

Where do you live?
Katonah, New York.

What was the first job you ever had?
The very first job I ever had was working in a dry cleaning shop. I think I was 14 or 15.

What’s the upside of working in a family business?
That you’re working with people that have the same or similar thought processes and that you can rely on.

What’s the downside of working in a family business?
There’s emotional and other relationship baggage that comes with working in a family business.

Which members of your family work at the Durst Organization?
My cousin, Jody; his brother and my cousin, Kristoffer; my son, Alexander; and daughter, Helena.

What about your other children?
My daughter Anita is artistic director of a not-for-profit, which she founded, called Chashama, which provides space for artists.

How many business functions do you attend each week?
Two or three.

Do you like going to functions?
No.

You are known for developing environmentally friendly “green” buildings — most notably the Condé Nast office tower at 4 Times Square. How are you personally environmentally responsible?
My wife and I own one of the largest organic farms in New York — McEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton. Our partner is the actual farmer, Ray McEnroe. We’re very careful in what we buy. Our kids were brought up as vegetarian. I used to be a vegetarian, but not anymore. We eat as healthy as possible. We drive hybrid cars. We recycle, and I always wear green socks.

How big is the farm?
It’s about 600 acres.

How often do you go up there?
In the summer, just about every week we’re up there; less frequently in the wintertime.

What’s you favorite thing to do on West 42nd Street?
I go to the movies there on 42nd Street. My favorite thing is to walk on 42nd Street and see all the changes that have taken place in the last 30 years.

What was the last movie you saw there?
The last movie I saw was “Monster-in-Law.” My wife thought she would like it. We did not like it.

How much money do you have in your wallet right now?
Probably about $400.

What’s your biggest professional gaffe?
When I came back to New York in the late ’60s, I was looking at making an investment and I looked at property in Soho and decided that nobody would ever want to live in Soho. So I invested with [Manhattan grocer] Eli Zabar in a project on Columbus Avenue and 78th Street. That was five years too soon. Five years after I finished selling the units, one unit sold for the same amount that I sold all of them for.

Give advice to someone younger and in the same field.
When people ask me how to get started I always advise them to start as a broker or in operations, that you can’t just suddenly become a developer. You have to know what tenants want. You have to know how buildings operate.

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
That I’m a grandfather.

Who’s your hero?
My father [Seymour Durst, who died in 1995] because he was always trying to do what was best even if it was not very popular.

What do you miss most about him?
His advice. I often think that “I’ve got to ask Dad about that.” Of course I can’t.

How do you deal with antagonists?
I let them talk.

But do you confront or ignore them?
I don’t like confrontation, but if I have to, I confront them.

What’s your greatest vice?
Bridge.

Are you a good player?
Not as good as I would like to be.

What do you read every day?
The Times, News, Post and the Wall Street Journal. I glance at the headlines.

What was the last book you read?
Right now I’m reading the new biography of Andrew Carnegie ["Andrew Carnegie" by David Nasaw].

What do you have on your night table?
The book I’m reading. I also have the report of the Iraq study group my daughter wants me to read, alarm clock, my reading glasses.

Who is the boss at home, you or your wife?

I make the big decisions — world peace [chuckles], things like that. She makes the other decisions. She’s the boss.

What would you want said about you after you die?
He sure knew how to party [laughs]. No, no, I’d like them to say, “He was a good father.”

Interview by Lauren Elkies

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