The door to Harry Weinberg's Baltimore real estate empire is sandwiched between the Hair Styling Junction and the 40 West Auto Supply in a little shopping center on Baltimore National Pike.
Up stairs covered with worn red linoleum and past dusty file cabinets full of bank statements from the now defunct Brager-Gutman department store is the office, decorated with mismatched furniture, from which Weinberg's multimillion-dollar Baltimore real estate holdings were managed.
Weinberg died Nov. 4 of cancer, leaving a $900 million charitable trust -- the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation -- to give away a projected $45 million each year to the poor.
Although Weinberg's real estate holdings in Hawaii make up the bulk of his fortune, state tax records show his Baltimore area properties are now valued by state tax assessors at $58 million, despite his refusal to repair or rehabilitate them.
The future of Weinberg's Maryland properties rests with the five trustees of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation: Weinberg's brothers, William and Nathan of Pikesville; his long-time associate, Bernard Siegel of Baltimore; Alvin Awaya, manager of Weinberg's Hawaii holdings; and Scranton, Pa., accountant Robert T. Kelly.
The trustees are giving no interviews and have not decided yet what to do with the properties, according to Joel Winegarden, who manages the Baltimore holdings.
It remains to be seen whether the trustees will follow the lead of Weinberg, who held on to nearly everything he bought. The foundation's incorporation terms allow it to sell the Baltimore-area properties only under "compelling circumstances."
Weinberg's properties here consisted of decaying commercial real estate in downtown Baltimore, small suburban shopping centers in Baltimore County and more than 200 acres of mostly undeveloped waterfront property in northern Anne Arundel County.
WEALTH BY DEFAULT
In downtown Baltimore, Weinberg long stood in the way of the city's attempts to rejuvenate the Howard Street shopping district. Nevertheless, Weinberg's wealth in real estate grew by default.
Richard Stein should know. For years, while Stein tried to revive the Howard Street corridor, he watched helplessly as Weinberg collected downtown buildings with apparently no intention of upgrading them.
Weinberg's buildings increased in value by their proximity to other properties being restored nearby. Weinberg also managed make his properties more valuable by getting others to pump money into them.
Stein's favorite example of Weinberg's strategy is the old Hochschild-Kohn department store warehouse in the 200 block of W. Centre St.
Stein was a Hochschild-Kohn vice president in 1978 when Weinberg bought the entire square block on which the warehouse sits for $1.3 million, according to city land records.
By 1983, Stein was working for the city, heading the Market Center Development Corporation, with a mandate to rejuvenate the Howard Street shopping corridor.
"One of the first things I did was to have [the block] appraised. It was worth $3 million by then," said Stein.
Today, the block, bounded by Howard, Centre and Franklin streets and Park Avenue, is worth $9 million, according to state tax assessors.
Weinberg spent virtually nothing while that block was increasing in value. He leased the warehouse to the Bank of Baltimore, which spent between $2 and $3 million to renovate it, said Stein, who now works for the state.
When the lease is up, the Weinberg Foundation will reap the benefits of the bank's investment, Stein said.
In the 500 block of N. Howard Street -- part of the same square block Weinberg bought for $1 million -- the city tried to get Weinberg to raze a group of vacant, dilapidated buildings.
"I told his people if you don't tear it down, it will burn down and it almost did. Some homeless folks burned the wainscoting and started a fire there," said Stein.
Unable to budge Weinberg, Baltimore officials finally rented the property from him for $1 a year and demolished the buildings at the city's expense.
During the years Stein worked for Market Center, he butted heads with Weinberg many times over the 37 properties Weinberg owned downtown.
His holdings included the old Stewart's department store building at the corner of Howard and Lexington streets, as well as the former Brager-Gutman department store (now Epsteins) on the corner of Lexington Street and Park Avenue.
Stein's staff dreamed of a downtown rejuvenated with Weinberg's cooperation and drew up many plans to revitalize Weinberg's properties "in the anticipation of the day I'd crack Harry. But it never happened. It was very, very frustrating."
STEWART'S AN EYESORE
One of the biggest eyesores among the Weinberg holdings is the old Stewart's. Weinberg bought it in 1979 for $1 million, according to land records.
It is now valued at $4 million by state tax assessors. The old department store is empty, except for several small shops renting first-floor space.