Two brothers who altered face of city Manekins have made mighty buildings sprout where gloom once grew

50-year labor of love

'We've tried to repay the good fortune that life has given us'

June 16, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Standing on the 21st floor of the World Trade Center, Bernard and Harold Manekin marveled at the skyline they helped craft over the past five decades.

Looking out past Harborplace, the two brothers who started a small real estate firm in the halcyon days of post-World War II saw much to reflect on. After all, there is little of downtown that does not bear a Manekin mark.

From the 33-acre Charles Center that was the genesis of Baltimore's renaissance in the early 1960s to the Lord Baltimore Hotel to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Manekins -- 82-year-old Bernard and 79-year-old Harold -- have either developed, owned or influenced virtually every significant downtown building project of the past 50 years.

At Charles Center, for instance, the Manekins were involved in leasing, managing or planning four of the five office towers constructed there. Most notably, Manekin Corp. leased One Charles Center, the 23-story speculative office building that sparked redevelopment there.

"It gives me great satisfaction to see the tangible evidence of what we've been involved in these past 50 years," said Manekin Corp. Chairman Bernard Manekin, whose firm is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. "But of all the achievements and successes, the greatest to me is the growth and meaningfulness of the 150 people of this company."

Even the 30-story World Trade Center owes its existence partly to the Manekins, who voluntarily scrapped a potentially lucrative leasing and management contract rather than start a fight that could have held up construction on the skyscraper.

"They have made an outstanding mark in center city development over the past 35 years," said Walter Sondheim, the 87-year-old senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee and counsel to mayors, governors and business leaders.

At least part of the Manekins' success can be chalked up to longevity: No commercial real estate firm in the city, save for Colliers Pinkard, has been in business longer.

And with the exception of Rouse Co., the publicly traded, $4.8 billion real estate firm founded by Bernard's law school classmate James W. Rouse, no company has built more commercial space downtown.

Its city monuments are many: the 25-story, onyx-skinned office tower known as Charles Center South at 36 S. Charles St.; the 12-story One Center Plaza building it rehabilitated in 1982; and, most recently, a 25-story skyscraper at 120 E. Baltimore St. that Manekin completed in 1989.

"What Baltimore needed after [World War II] was extraordinary vision and foresight," said H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman and chief executive of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., Manekin's primary lender. "And the Manekins provided it."

"They changed the entire world's perception of Baltimore," Rouse Chairman Mathias J. DeVito said of the brothers' involvement with Charles Center.

In exchange for their prosperity, the Manekins have made extensive financial contributions to charity and the city's cultural institutions such as the Walters Art Gallery, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation and the United Way.

And later this week, much of the Manekin staff will descend on a Southwest Baltimore neighborhood with brooms, paint and other paraphernalia to clean and rehabilitate the area. The so-called "Day of Caring" is an annual Manekin event.

"We've tried in some small way to repay the good fortune that life has given us," said Vice Chairman Harold Manekin, who later this week will carry the Olympic torch nearly a mile through Baltimore on its path toward Atlanta.

The brothers' influence extends well beyond the city limits, however.

In the suburbs, the Manekins were pioneers of the modern industrial park, when they teamed with General Motors Corp. for the development of the 200-acre Parkway Industrial Center in the Hanover section of Anne Arundel County.

In Columbia, while Rouse was developing housing, retail and recreational facilities, the Manekins were among the first to recognize the new town as a viable spot for commercial and industrial projects.

"They're smart, experienced and they have a high degree of integrity, which for us is of paramount importance," said Kevin M. Mahony, managing director of Boston-based Copley Real Estate Advisors Inc., a $6.5 billion pension fund adviser and a key Manekin development partner since 1981.

"They've really focused on their local market, because in real estate, the further away from home one gets the better chance for mistakes. And the other thing that separates Manekin is that they've always focused on serving their clients."

Today, from humble beginnings in a basement office at 7 W. Biddle St., Manekin Corp. controls roughly 100 buildings totaling 7.5 million square feet. Last year, the privately held firm's revenues reached a record $10.6 million, a 13 percent increase from 1994 and a 39 percent jump over the company's 1993 performance.

But along the way, Manekin has faced more than its share of setbacks.

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