Jerry Gottesman oversaw a multi-billion-dollar real estate empire, but he didn’t own a tie that cost more than $24 unless someone bought it for him.
“We were not interested in being real estate big shots,” Gottesman said of his early days buying property in the 1960s in a pre-recorded video tribute that was shown during his memorial service Tuesday.
“I had no visions of building buildings or great increases in value,” he said. “We were trying to run a parking lot as efficiently as we could and earn [enough money] to live.”
But from a single parking lot that he and his brother Harold bought on Edison Place in Newark, New Jersey in 1956, Gottesman built a real estate empire on both sides of the Hudson River and in Baltimore that’s now valued in the billions.
Gottesman died of pneumonia while on a trip to Israel Sunday at the age of 87.
In those 60-plus years Gottesman rarely sold properties. He built a company that employed about 600 people, gave to charitable causes and became a prominent civic figure in Newark, where his properties have helped to drive the city’s development renaissance. (One of Tuesday’s attendees, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, had signed a proclamation recognizing Gottesman’s civic contributions.)
More than 500 people packed the auditorium at the Gottesman RTW Academy – so named for a $15 million donation Jerry and his wife, Paula, made to the school – in suburban Randolph, New Jersey to memorialize the property titan.
Loved ones described a man with two passions in his life: family and real estate.
“For the past 20 years, my dad has been saying … ‘When I am dead, remember to always buy property on a corner,’” Archie Gottesman, one of four daughters, recalled.
“’Remember to not sell air rights. Remember to get a right of first refusal. Remember to fight for better zoning. Remember to not pay any more tax than you have to. Remember to fight every threatened real estate property condemnation,’” she explained. “And the list went on.”
And while Gottesman controlled a portfolio on par with some of the biggest the biggest names in real estate, he flew under the radar. Many property moguls flaunt their wealth with expensive toys like yachts and private jets. But Gottesman didn’t spend on lavish displays of wealth. He left the majority of his fortune to Jewish educational causes, representatives said.
He could be single-minded, such as when he urged the city in the 1990s to force scofflaw parking lot owners to pay their fair share of the parking tax, earning him the title of “Watchdog of the Parking World.”
And though there is no heir-apparent to the Edison Property fortune — Crain’s reported that Gottesman had disagreements with family members over the years on the direction of the business and chafed at the idea of handing over leadership of the company — the real estate titan passed along his knowledge of the business through generations of his family.
He wrote a series of books that stack up half-a-foot thick detailing how he built and ran his business to pass along to his daughters, 17 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“One of my dreams is that my grand children will develop this curiosity about real estate,” he said in his video, which shows him teaching his young grandchildren lessons about the business.