The Real Deal New York

Remembering the NYC real estate players who died in 2017

The industry lost many prominent figures — from developers who spanned generations to others at the peaks of their careers
By The Editors | December 01, 2017 11:00AM

This year brought the loss of several New York real estate luminaries. Some had careers that lasted the better part of a century, including Glenwood Management’s Leonard Litwin and Edison Properties’ Jerry Gottesman, while others like developer Lou Ceruzzi and the Corcoran Group’s Ric Swezey were sudden losses. As 2017 comes to a close, The Real Deal wanted to commemorate those who passed. Below are many, but not all, of the industry movers and shakers we said goodbye to.

Leonard Litwin as the most prolific campaign donor in state history, and his passing was considered the end of an era. The Glenwood Management founder died at his home in Melville, Long Island, on April 2, at the age of 102. His career spanned nearly 70 years, starting with developing garden apartments in Long Island with his father in 1946. Litwin founded Glenwood in 1961, and the firm has since developed more than 25 buildings and 8,000 rental apartments in Manhattan. He landed on Forbes Magazine’s list of billionaires in 2006 and remained active at Glenwood into his 90s. He was a major donor in state politics throughout his career. By the time Glenwood became embroiled in the trials of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in 2015, Litwin had taken a step back from the firm. Glenwood was not charged with any wrongdoing, and, at the time, sources said Litwin had very little knowledge of the corruption cases. Litwin and Donald Zucker, a close friend, founded the Litwin-Zucker Center for the Study of Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders in Manhasset, Long Island, in 2004. Litwin left behind two daughters, including Glenwood president Carole Litwin Pittelman, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

From the purchase of a parking lot in Edison, New Jersey, in 1956, Jerry Gottesman created a multi-billion-dollar real estate empire spanning from Manhattan to Baltimore. The co-founder and CEO of Edison Properties died of a pneumonia on Sept. 10 at the age of 87 while he was on a trip to Israel. His firm employs roughly 600 people and controls more than 3 million square feet of real estate in New York and New Jersey, including the Hippodrome office building at 1120 Sixth Avenue. The company also developed the 243-unit Ludlow apartment building on Houston Street on the Lower East Side in 2007. During his more than 60-year career, Gottesman became a prominent civic figure in Newark. His properties helped drive the city’s development renaissance, and he donated extensively to charitable causes, including Jewish educational institutions. He “left a substantial part of his estate to charities,” according to an Edison spokesperson. Gottesman was worth more than $550 million at the time of his death. There is no heir apparent to the Edison Property fortune, but Gottesman had said he hoped his grandchildren would develop an interest in real estate. He wrote a series of books detailing how he built and ran his company to pass along to his daughters, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Lou Ceruzzi, the founder and president of Ceruzzi Properties, passed away unexpectedly from a “coronary event” on Aug. 31 at the age of 64. He started his career as a tax attorney in New Haven, Connecticut, and in the 1980s became a suburban retail kingpin, building stores for big-box brands. In 1997, he formed the retail joint-venture Starwood Ceruzzi with Starwood Capital Group. And in 2013, his began investing in Manhattan properties. In partnership with SMI USA, the U.S. arm of Shanghai Municipal Investment, Ceruzzi’s firm is developing a 72-story, 124-unit condo tower at 138 East 50th Street and a 71-story hotel-and-condominium at 520 Fifth Avenue, among others. Ceruzzi was also an investor in several restaurants with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian — and at one point, he found himself in a tiff with President Trump. Ceruzzi and Zakarian had signed on for a space at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., but pulled out of the deal in mid-2015, following Trump’s description of Mexicans as rapists. Trump sued them for $10 million and the case was settled this past April. Art Hooper, Kenneth Cartelli, Travis Farina and Robert Skolnick have taken over Ceruzzi Properties. Roy Stillman, a former partner of Ceruzzi’s, previously told TRD that the firm’s new leadership “wants to fulfill Lou’s aspirations on his behalf.”

Real estate veteran Carel Corcoran passed away on March 20. She was 83. Corcoran joined Brown Harris Stevens in 1957 and her career spanned 60 years. She attended the Brearley School and Garrison Forest School and also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Katherine Gibbs School. Corcoran lived in Carnegie Hill and is survived by her brother, two sisters-in-law, four nephews and eight grandnephews and grandnieces. 

Peter Valentine Tishman, the scion of Norman Tishman, passed away on Aug. 26 at the age of 85. He had progressive supranuclear palsy for four years, according to the East Hampton Star. In 1953, Tishman enlisted in the Army and served in Korea before being transferred to Guam. He spent a year and a half overseas before being discharged in September 1955 as a corporal. Tishman then joined his father’s firm, Tishman Realty and Construction, in 1955. He left the company in 1968, a few years after his father’s death. He started Peter Tishman Real Estate, where he developed properties nationwide in 1969.

A staid character in New York City real estate, S. Jhoanna Robledo passed away on July 19 at the age of 46. She attended Columbia University’s Journalism School and was a long-time columnist for New York Magazine before becoming the editor-in-chief of real estate news site Brick Underground in 2015. Robledo was born in 1970 and grew up in Manila and Hong Kong. A month before her passing, she posted on Facebook that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She is survived by her husband and three children.

Jennifer Blumin, the founder and CEO of Skylight Studios, kicked off her career in the venue development business in 2000, when she started Sky Studios (which became Skylight Studios in 2004). The firm hosts events at otherwise disused historic buildings. In 2016, for instance, Skylight Studios repurposed an old mail room at the former James A. Farley Post Office Building into a runway for New York Fashion Week. Skylight has worked with such companies as Google, Microsoft, Nike and Ralph Lauren. Separately, Blumin served on the board of the Lowline and the Moynihan Station Arts and Cultural Committee. Blumin went missing, along with her boyfriend and two sons, while flying near the Bahamas this May. She was 40 years old.

Kurt Weyrauch, who most recently served as managing director of sales for Brown Harris Stevens’ downtown division, passed away in April at the age of 64. He lived in Manhattan for more than 25 years, primarily in Greenwich Village. He served on the Benefit Committee for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. During his career at Brown Harris Stevens, he oversaw the creation of the firm’s Tribeca office and the expansion of its Greenwich Village office.

One of the Corcoran Group’s top producers and an LGBTQ activist, Ric Swezey passed away on June 3. Swezey briefly worked at Town Residential, but was with Corcoran for about 15 years. Before his real estate career, Swezey was a competitive gymnast and worked as a stunt performer. Swezey was an active member of the Family Equality Council, and a memorial for his passing raised more than $500,000 for the organization. After his death, the Family Equality Council announced it would create and dedicate a library of video content documenting the challenges LGBTQ families face to Swezey. He is survived by his husband, Nick Scandalios, an executive at the Nederlander Organization, and their two children, Kate and Luke.

Francine Gladstone worked in Halstead’s Riverdale office. Her real estate career spans more than 20 years. Before that, she was a vice president of a Rolls-Royce dealership and worked in customer relations for BMW. Outside of her professional career, she was also a poet, a pianist and studied comedy.

Anthony DeVivio, who served as the managing director of Halstead’s East Hampton and Southampton offices, passed away on March 26 at the age of 63. He spent his final six months battling cancer, according to the East Hampton Star. DeVivio worked at Halstead for nine years. Before making his way out to the Hamptons, he worked as the firm’s director of sales in the Harlem and Riverdale offices. Previously, he worked in the retail financial services industry. DeVivio was active in charities, including the Boys Town and the Retreat in East Hampton. A spokesperson for Halstead told TRD in a statement that, “We will forever remember his commitment, knowledge and love for the industry and his colleagues who admired him so greatly.”

Ann Bialek, who worked at Halstead for 20 years, passed away earlier this year. She was based out of the firm’s Park Avenue office but worked across the city selling lofts, penthouses and pied-à-terres. She was among the top 20 percent of producers at Halstead and won the firm’s Platinum Circle and Gold Circle awards for selling properties worth more than $6 million. In 2011, she won third place in the Real Estate Board of New York’s Deal of the Year. Bialek was a New York University graduate and began her career as a second- and third-grade teacher.

Amy Rea worked out of Halstead’s East Side office for 14 years. She passed away in November. Rea started her real estate career in 1999 and sold properties across Manhattan, in neighborhoods such as Soho and the Upper West Side. She previously worked in advertising, and was also a dance-skater and tango dancer. She moved to New York in 1974, after leaving her hometown of Halstead, Kansas.

Ellen Wedeles passed away on Nov. 16, following a brief illness, according to her obituary. She was 72. Wedeles previously worked in interior design, real estate and banking. She joined Warburg Realty in 2001 and worked on residential sales in Manhattan, with a bulk of her listings on the Upper East Side. Frederick Warburg Peters, the firm’s CEO, told TRD in a statement that, “Ellen charmed everyone who crossed her path. With her wry wit, generous spirit, and sharp powers of observation, Ellen was a terrific agent, a tireless booster of our culture, and a wonderful friend.”