Businessman helped reshape city's downtown

Harold Manekin 1916 - 2007

January 10, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Harold Manekin, who embraced the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore 50 years ago through an influential commercial real estate business he founded with his brother, died of lung disease Monday at his Brooklandville home. He was 90.

"With his brother Bernie alongside, Harold helped change the world's perception of Baltimore," former Rouse Co. Chairman Mathias DeVito said yesterday. "He ran his company efficiently and quietly, and the two brothers could not have made a better team."

The Manekins, through the corporation they founded, were involved in leasing, managing or planning four major downtown office towers in the 1960s and 1970s - and later saw the business potential of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, where they invested heavily in office parks.

Born in Philadelphia and raised on Ruxton Avenue in West Baltimore, he was a 1935 graduate of City College.

After serving in the Army during World War II and working briefly at his father's bar, he accepted an invitation from his older brother Bernard to get into real estate. Among their early ventures was selling burial lots at Chizuk Amuno Congregation's Arlington Cemetery.

The Manekins founded their business in the basement of a rowhouse at 36 W. Biddle St. and remained equal partners until retiring in 2000, after selling a large part of their company to a real estate investment trust, AMB.

"They started out doing whatever kind of real estate they could get their arms around but found that residential work was keeping them away from their families," said a son, Donald Manekin of Hunt Valley. "So they shifted into commercial and industrial work."

Beginning in the 1950s, the brothers joined the Greater Baltimore Committee and enthusiastically backed the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore.

They scored an early business victory by leasing One Charles Center, the 1962 office building constructed on the site of the old O'Neill's department store. It was the city's first speculatively constructed office building in many years - it had no lead tenant - and housed dozens of individual commercial tenants.

"That was quite an achievement because new office leases were scarce in those days," said Martin L. Millspaugh, former chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc. "Many in the real estate profession didn't believe it would happen."

Family members said Bernard Manekin made the deals and was the business rainmaker, while Harold Manekin ran the company's office and real estate leasing division.

"There is little of downtown that does not bear a Manekin mark," said a 1996 Sun profile on the Manekin brothers. The article noted that the Manekins "have either developed, owned or influenced virtually every significant downtown building project of the past 50 years."

On a late-1960s visit to San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square, Mr. Manekin was impressed by the architectural recycling of an old chocolate factory. He and his brother later persuaded officials of the Maryland Casualty Co. to redevelop their 40th Street former headquarters as a mixed office-retail development called The Rotunda.

More recently, they focused attention on the Baltimore-Washington corridor. They worked in Columbia and developed and brokered the Parkway Industrial Center.

Mr. Manekin's many philanthropic activities included serving as president of the Children's Guild and the CHAI Comprehensive Housing Assistance program in Park Heights. He also was president of the Lyric Foundation and worked for the enlargement of its Mount Royal Avenue opera house.

He held the presidencies of the YMCA of Central Maryland and the Jewish Family and Children's Service. He was a treasurer of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Late in life, Mr. Manekin took up a hobby - sculpting marble at the Jewish Community Center. He kept up that work until several months ago.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson and Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

In addition to his son and brother, survivors include his wife of 40 years, the former Francine Ungar; two other sons, Steve Wetzler of Washington and Rick Wetzler of Rhinebeck, N.Y.; a daughter, Sandye Manekin Sirota of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife of 18 years, the former Mildred Lebow, died in 1964.

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