Herbert A. Thaler

World War II veteran and philanthropist built thousands of custom homes in the Pikesville area.

September 15, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Herbert A. Thaler, a retired custom-home builder who developed parts of the Pikesville area during a lengthy career in his field, died of pneumonia complications Tuesday at Sinai Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 95.

Born in Baltimore and raised on West Lanvale Street, he was a 1933 Polytechnic Institute graduate and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama, where he had a sports scholarship.

Family members said that while he was at the university, Mr. Thaler played as a starter on the varsity football team and was a teammate of Paul William "Bear" Bryant, who went on to coach the Alabama team.

Mr. Thaler joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps while at Alabama and graduated in his Army uniform as a second lieutenant. He helped construct Army airfields in Puerto Rico and in Panama before World War II.

After the U.S. entered the war, he was assigned to a combat engineering battalion and constructed airfields in New Guinea and at other Pacific-area posts. He was struck by enemy fire during a strafing run and received a Purple Heart. He later suffered from malaria and dengue fever. He left military service as a colonel.

Mr. Thaler had considered remaining in the military after the war, but he gave up the idea when he married Vivian Smelkinson in 1947.

Mr. Thaler went into the home construction business. He initially worked for local contractors. Under the name HMH Construction, he and his partners, Harry Samson and Morris Sugarman, built thousands of custom homes in the Summit Park, Midfield Road, Greengate and Anton Farms section of Baltimore County near Pikesville.

He built, owned and managed the One Mile West shopping center in Catonsville. With Mr. Sugarman and Jerome Monfred, he developed, owned and managed the 140 Village Center in Westminster. He also built the 500-unit Sykesville Apartments. He retired about 10 years ago.

The home Mr. Thaler built for his family on a Baltimore County hilltop was the subject of a 1972 Sunday Sun Magazine article. The site was considered unbuildable.

The article said he was attracted by "the irresistible challenge of the natural beauty - a spectacular overlook of an old quarry, a 90-foot drop, straight down, and a secluded stand of towering trees."

He employed architect Thomas G. Jewell to design a glass-and-stone house whose foundation had to be notched into the hillside. He supervised its construction on daily visits to the site.

Mr. Thaler had a room built for his woodworking and another, a humidity-controlled chamber he called his "hot box," where he cultivated orchids and tropical plants. Family members often gave him plants that were in poor shape and he would nurse them in what they called his "intensive care ward."

An animal lover, he kept dogs who accompanied him in the construction field. He also rescued chipmunks and raccoons.

Mr. Thaler engaged in philanthropy and endowed several medical centers and research facilities in the United States and Israel.

"He insisted that his name never be used," said his son, Herbert A. Thaler Jr. of Pikesville. "He was a man of tremendous integrity. His homes always increased in value."

Services were held Friday at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, where he was a longtime member.

Survivors include another son, David S. Thaler of Baltimore; and five grandchildren. His wife of nearly 53 years died in 1999. A son, Myles H. Thaler, died in 1992.

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