Developer William Zeckendorf, Jr., a real estate pioneer who built Worldwide Plaza and the Zeckendorf Towers overlooking Union Square, died Feb. 12 at Cristus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 84.
The son of William Zeckendorf, Sr., who put together the site for the United Nations Building, the younger Zeckendorf created a number of projects in New York City, Washington, D.C. and other cities.
Born and raised in New York, he joined his father’s company in 1953, following 18 months of U.S. Army service in Korea. The elder Zeckendorf went bankrupt in 1965, but managed a comeback with a new firm in which his son also worked.
Zeckendorf, Jr. similarly suffered a number of setbacks in his real estate career, hobbled by the early ’90s banking slump and making front-page news in March 2000 when collection attorneys broke into his penthouse apartment in the Delmonico Hotel to search for assets.
His sons, William Lie and Arthur Zeckendorf, joined their father’s real estate business after college and now have their own firm, which developed 15 Central Park West and 50 United Nations Plaza. The family is considered among the real estate dynasties of New York City.
Zeckendorf, Jr. was a major player in changing the face of the once-seedy West Side and Times Square area into a modern office district, with projects such as Worldwide Plaza and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, at 1605 Broadway.
Broker Robert Shapiro, who worked with Zeckendorf in assembling properties for projects such as Crowne Plaza, said, “he knew what he wanted and he ran after it.”
“He was a pioneer of Eighth Avenue, [a place] that was known at the time as the Minnesota Strip; it was all pornography,” Shapiro recalled to The Real Deal. “We cleaned up more adult entertainment than [Mayor] Rudy Giuliani ever did.”