Benny Caiola, major building owner and developer, dies at 79

<i>Caiola also amassed one of the world's most extensive collections of Ferraris</i>

Benny Caiola
Benny Caiola, who started B & L Management, which owns thousands of apartments throughout New York City, passed away last month after a sudden cancer diagnosis. He was 79.

Caiola began his career as a plasterer after emigrating from Italy at the age of 17, and ultimately built a portfolio for B & L that today includes nearly three dozen apartment buildings.

Those who knew him said that Caiola was a passionate, larger-than-life figure who, despite his success and wealth, never lost sight of his modest beginnings.

“He was extremely hands-on. Even on his early projects, where he was the boss, he would still pick up the broom and sweep the floor,” said Stephen Jacobs, an architect who worked with Caiola for nearly four decades. “I never saw the man raise his voice, and yet everybody around him respected him.”

Caiola was also widely known for owning one of the world’s most extensive collections of Ferraris. He bought his first in 1977, along with more than 100 cars since. The garage at his Pelham Manor home currently holds some 30 exotic cars. Others are housed in various car dealerships and at Caiola’s second home in the Hamptons.

In 2004, Primo Magazine asked Caiola what it felt like to drive a Ferrari. “You really wanna know?” he said. “Better than sex.”

Friends said a meticulously groomed Caiola was a regular at Mezzaluna, on Third Avenue between 74th and 75th streets, where he had a standing lunch table with his brother, Sal, and ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce nearly every day for more than 20 years. That’s also where he made many of his deals.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“I’d say, ‘I have a building you may be interested in’ … and he’d take out a napkin and write down some numbers and say, ‘Okay, I buy.’ And his word was his word. When he said something he did it,” said Anne DeMarzo, who owns the residential and investment property brokerage DeMarzo Realty and sold Caiola many of his development sites over the past 25 years.

“I don’t think there was a site that I offered him that he wanted that he didn’t get. And every single one was successful,” DeMarzo said. “He loved being a person who created part of the city.” Caiola’s properties include 21 Chelsea, the 210-unit rental building at 120 West 21st Street that he built with Jacobs; 312 East 30th Street, a 67-unit Murray Hill rental built in 1986; and more than two dozen small- to mid-size multifamily dwellings in the East 60s, 70s and 80s.

By all accounts, Caiola’s achievements were borne of old-fashioned hard work — and street smarts.

“He understood quality and he built quality. He was not someone who would just build the cheapest building to try to make as much money as possible,” Jacobs said. “That wasn’t Benny.”

Caiola is survived by his wife, Bettina; three sons, Benny, Luigi and Alfred; and a daughter, Rose, all of whom are partners in the family business.