Financier Weinberg dies, leaves $1 billion to poor Foundation likely to spend millions yearly in Baltimore

November 05, 1990|By David Simon

With a wellspring of an estimated $900 million to $1 billion dedicated to the poor, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation -- the legacy of a dying financial wizard -- became yesterday one of the nation's 12 largest charitable organizations and Baltimore's largest philanthropic enterprise.

This grand act of public service seemed an unlikely legacy from Harry Weinberg, an enigmatic man who wanted only to be left alone as he made his millions. In his hometown of Baltimore, he sought no monument, no headlines, no projects in steel and concrete to which his face and name might be affixed.

His real estate holdings -- including large tracts in the Howard Street corridor and several shopping centers around Baltimore -- were largely untended or unimproved.

Having lived since 1968 in Hawaii, he was Baltimore's invisible billionaire.

But in death, the Weinberg legacy to this city and state promises to be greater and more dramatic than that of the Blausteins, the Meyerhoffs, the Knotts or any of the better-known Baltimore families dedicated to philanthropy. By preliminary estimates, the assets of this startling legacy are eight or nine times larger than that of the A. S. Abell Foundation, previously this city's largest non-profit foundation.

"It really is an unbelievable task," said Shale D. Stiller, attorney for the foundation. "It's an incredible amount of money to give away."

With the exception of about $3 million left to grandchildren, the entire Weinberg estate is to be transferred to the foundation. Even the trustees acknowledge that the total value of that estate much of it in the form of valuable Hawaiian land -- is unknown.

Even by the trustees' conservative estimates of $900 million to $1 billion, the Weinberg Foundation will be giving as much as $45 million a year to help the poor. And a significant share -- perhaps one-third to one-half -- will be spent in Baltimore, according to William Weinberg, the founder's brother and one of the five appointed trustees.

"We're from Baltimore," said William Weinberg. "And I would say that a lot of the money is going to be going to people in Baltimore."

Under the terms of the corporate charter, 25 percent of each year's expenditures will go to charities whose beneficiaries are predominantly Jewish and needy. A second 25 percent will go to charities whose beneficiaries are predominantly gentile and needy.

The remaining 50 percent of the funds allocated by the foundation are to be given to charities that benefit the needy regardless of religion, color or creed. A separate amendment notes that the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, formerly the Associated Jewish Charities, may receive no more than $2 million from the foundation in any year.

The charter requires that recipients use the money to benefit people "whose financial resources are less than the financial resources of 50 percent of the individuals in the relevant community." The money is to be divided evenly between capital improvements and operating expenses.

The charter dictates that no money may be given to any college or university, "or any organization whose primary purpose relates to music, literature or art, such as orchestras or art museums."

The prohibition does not prevent funds from being given to organizations that in turn give a portion of their funds to such groups.

Nonetheless, William Weinberg said yesterday that it was his brother's intent to aid the poor: "Those kind of things are for the rich. . . . They're not going to get a quarter."

In contrast, the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries are slated to receive $1 million each in the coming year, according to William Weinberg.

Beyond those preliminary gifts, just how the Weinberg fortune will be used to combat poverty is uncertain. William Weinberg conceded that the sums involved are enormous and that only by staffing the foundation with expert help could the money be spent wisely.

"We're going to have to go out and get the best people," he said.

But beyond any help from paid professionals and the basic limitations imposed by the charter, the use of the Weinberg fortune will be decided solely by the five trustees named by Mr. Weinberg. In addition to his brother, William, they are:

* Another younger brother, Nathan Weinberg of Pikesville.

* Bernard Siegel, a Baltimore attorney with many years of service to Mr. Weinberg.

* Alvin Awaya, manager of Mr. Weinberg's Hawaiian holdings, who worked 17 years for the billionaire.

* Robert T. Kelly Sr., a Scranton, Pa., accountant.

The charter allows for unspecified compensation of trustees and names replacements for each of the trustees in the event of death or resignation, as well as a process by which additional candidates may be selected.

With the exception of Mr. Awaya, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kelly's two sons, who are named as possible replacements for their father, the charter specifies that the trustees shall be Jewish and members in good standing of at least one synagogue.

One other stipulation in the charter has particular relevance to Baltimore, where Mr. Weinberg's unimproved holdings in the Howard Street corridor and at strip shopping centers throughout the area have long been regarded as stumbling blocks to urban renewal.

Reflecting the attitude of Harry Weinberg, who long prided himself on having rarely, if ever, parted with a piece of land, the charter states that the trustees can't sell any real estate in Hawaii. In addition, the trustees are prohibited from selling any real estate elsewhere -- except "under compelling circumstances."

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