In memoriam: The industry titans who died in 2020

Remembering real estate players who died over the last 12 months

Clockwise from top left: Stanley Chera, Sheldon Solow, Peter Hauspurg, Gerald Hines, Jerry Wolkoff, and Bianca Yankov 
Clockwise from top left: Stanley Chera, Sheldon Solow, Peter Hauspurg, Gerald Hines, Jerry Wolkoff, and Bianca Yankov

In a year when so many lives were lost, real estate was not spared. The industry mourned both legendary figures and those who died too soon.

But it was the death of Stanley Chera, the 77-year-old patriarch of Crown Acquisitions, that epitomized the year. The real estate titan had decamped New York City for Deal, New Jersey, early in the pandemic at the behest of his longtime friend, President Donald Trump. But on April 11, Chera died of complications from Covid-19. When Trump contracted Covid later in the year, he reportedly asked an aide, “Am I going to go out like Stan Chera?”

Chera’s sons, Isaac (Ike) and Richard, run the day-to-day operations of the family company. Another son, Haim, moved to Vornado Realty Trust in 2019, when Crown bought a 24 percent stake in the real estate investment trust’s Manhattan retail portfolio.

Chera was one of several industry figures who died after contracting the novel coronavirus early on in the pandemic. Covid-19 claimed the life of the Corcoran Group’s Robby Browne, 72, a broker known for his exuberance and work on high-profile Manhattan deals who died April 11. He had been battling cancer for years before contracting the virus.

In late March the brokerage also lost Marc J. Goodman, 67, to the coronavirus. He had been with the firm for more than two decades, working out of its West Side Gallery office. Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman referred to him as “an unfailing optimist” and among “the most generous of agents.”

The industry lost other major brokerage innovators and pioneers this year.

Alan Victor, a veteran broker of New York City’s high-street retail, died April 17 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. The 80-year-old was once one of the leading retail dealmakers in Manhattan, and co-founded the Lansco Corporation in 1965.

Bianca Yankov, a pioneer of the 100-percent commission brokerage model in New York, died on April 17, two days after her 37th birthday. The co-founder of the Spire Group had been battling cancer, and is survived by her husband and previous business partner, Dimo Nikolov, and their two children.

Javier Cervera, Sr., principal at Miami real estate brokerage Cervera Real Estate, died on May 24 at the age of 89 after a battle with cancer. Cervera was a fixture of Miami real estate, and had fled Cuba with his wife in 1961. His daughters, Veronica and Alicia, lead the company today; his son, Javier Cervera Jr., is president and CEO of Cervera Real Estate Ventures.

William Millichap, who co-founded his eponymous commercial brokerage with George Marcus in 1971, died in June at 76, after a battle with cancer.

Peter Haspurg, a fixture of New York City’s commercial real estate industry, died unexpectedly on Nov. 3. The 67-year-old had co-founded Eastern Consolidated with his wife, Daun Paris, in 1981. The firm became one of the most active investment-sales shops in the city until it shuttered in 2018.

The industry also said goodbye to a handful of major developers. One of the biggest names was Gerald Hines, who died on Aug. 23 at 95. Though his firm is known for shaping Houston’s skyline, it’s also developed iconic towers across the globe, such as the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the Tour EDF in Paris and Diagonal Mar in Barcelona.

New York said goodbye to a particular breed of old-school developer — characters who epitomized the chutzpah needed to ascend within the city’s real estate industry.

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Jerry Wolkoff, the head of G&M Realty, died on July 17 after a brief neurological illness. Though best known for his controversial redevelopment of the 5 Pointz graffiti complex in Long Island City, the brash Brownsville native got his start in the business in the 1960s, eventually amassing a portfolio of more than 12 million square feet in the five boroughs and Long Island. The developer, who was 83, previously said he planned to pass the firm onto his sons, David and Adam.

Sheldon Solow, the billionaire head of Solow Realty & Development, died from lymphoma on Nov. 17 at the age of 92. Over his 50-year career, he amassed a huge New York City portfolio and helped change the Midtown skyline, while earning a reputation for litigiousness along the way. He is survived by his wife and two sons, Nikolai Solow and Stefan Soloviev, the latter of whom has taken a more active role in the family business.

Brooklyn native Howie Klaus died suddenly on June 5 at the age of 65. He co-founded HK Organization with longtime business partner Harry Kotowitz in 2003, to develop and manage affordable housing for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

James Loewenberg, who helped shape the modern Chicago skyline, died on Oct. 14 at the age of 86 after a battle with cancer. He was co-CEO of Magellan Development Group and worked at his family’s architectural firm. Loewenberg’s recent achievements include developing the Aqua and Vista skyscrapers in Downtown Chicago, and creating the 83-acre Lakeshore East development, which encompasses residential towers flanked by shops, parks and transportation.

In May, the industry lost crowdfunding pioneer Rodrigo Niño, who died on May 18 at the age of 50 after a battle with cancer. Niño made his name as a Miami broker before moving to New York. He then broke onto the crowdfunding scene in 2013 with his platform, Prodigy Network. The company had been unraveling in the year prior to his death.

Los Angeles lost Ronald Birtcher, the co-head of construction and development firm Birtcher Enterprise,
who died on April 21 at 89. His firm was involved in developing over 40 million square feet of commercial real estate across the country. Most notably, Birtcher was lead developer of the 760,000-square-foot Pacific Design Center Blue Building in West Hollywood, which opened in 1975.

Prolific Los Angeles developer Jerry Snyder, 90, died on May 8.  He founded J.H. Snyder Company, whose most visible work was in the office market. Among his numerous projects, Snyder constructed the one-million-square-foot Wilshire Courtyard office complex, which helped revitalize a hurting Miracle Mile district.

The architecture community also lost several notable figures who helped shape cities.

Architect Henry Cobb died on March 2 at 93, after a distinguished 70-year career. He co-founded architecture firm I.M. Pei and Associates with partners I.M. Pei and Eason H. Leonard in 1955, which later went on to be known as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Cobb is known for designing the John Hancock Tower and the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in his hometown of Boston.

Jaquelin Taylor Robertson, who designed private residences for the rich and famous, died of Alzheimer’s disease on May 10 at age 87. He also had a hand in promoting good civic design as the first director of the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development.


Charles Urstadt, who was instrumental in the creation of Manhattan’s Battery Park City, died on March 3 at 91. He got his start working for William Zeckendorf Sr. before working under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller as the commissioner of the state’s housing regulator. He’s best known for the “Urstadt Law,” which was passed in 1971 and gave Albany power over the rules guiding the city’s hundreds of thousands of rent-regulated apartments.

And finally, the industry said goodbye to one of its most renowned publicists. Howard Rubenstein, who represented power players like Donald Trump, died on Dec. 29 at 88. He is survived by his wife Amy Forman, along with three children and seven grandchildren.

Alexi Friedman contributed reporting.