Alvin J. Myerberg

Home builder and real estate developer gave generously to health programs and art education and museum

February 19, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Alvin J. Myerberg, a Baltimore home builder and real estate developer whose philanthropic interests included health, art education and helping endow an art museum at Duke University, died of lymphoma Feb. 11 at his Owings Mills home.

He was 84.

Born in Baltimore, the son of a developer and a homemaker, he was raised on Labyrinth Road in Northwest Baltimore.

After graduating from Charlotte Hall Military Academy in 1943, he earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1947 from Duke.

After college, he joined Edward A. Myerberg & Co., a home-building business that was owned by his father and an uncle.

During the 1950s, the company developed and built numerous residential projects in the Liberty Road area.

"They predominantly built garden apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. They also built 1010 St. Paul in downtown Baltimore and more than 3,000 apartment units over the years," said his son, Henry Myerberg, an architect who lives in New York City.

During the 1970s, Mr. Myerberg took over the business, and at his death was semiretired but was still president of City Wide Management Co., a property management company.

"During the last 60 years, he built affordable residences for thousands, but his greatest impact was on building communities for thousands more who were underserved," his son said.

"His interests were the combined benefits of the arts, education and health. He took great pleasure in giving back 'until it hurts so good,' " his son said.

Inspired by his father's memory, Mr. Myerberg helped establish and launch the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center in Northwest Baltimore, which provides educational and recreational activities and programs for the area's seniors.

When Mr. Myerberg learned that the Enoch Pratt Free Library was contemplating closing its Cherry Hill branch, where he had built housing years ago, he provided an unsolicited donation to keep the library open for area residents.

Mr. Myerberg was also a fundraiser and served on the executive board of the Associated Jewish Charities and its real estate committee for more than 50 years.

"Alvin was never a passive donor, but an active donor whose legacy was not just the resources he gave but the passion and advocacy he gave," said Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art.

"I first met Alvin years ago, when he called and asked me to have lunch at the Center Club. Over lunch, he said he wanted to endow a scholarship fund and then said, 'Is that all right?' " Mr. Lazarus said with a laugh.

"Alvin never wanted his name up in lights. He was doing this because his wife and kids had studied here, and he wanted to be supportive of the school. His philanthropy wasn't tacit, it was the type of philanthropy that encouraged the school to do better and for others to give," Mr. Lazarus said.

Mr. Myerberg's wife, the former Louise Naviasky, a Maryland Institute graduate whom he married in 1950, introduced him to the world of art and art collecting.

In addition to supporting arts education at MICA, Mr. Myerberg became interested in the work of AEMS - Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance - after visiting a Montgomery County elementary school and observing the work of John Ceschini, then the school's principal, and the impact that the arts program he created had on his students and community.

"Alvin heard about the program and went over there. He was blown away by what he saw and proposed a video, 'Hard Fun,' that has been shown to educators across the country," said Mary Ann E. Mears, a Baltimore artist and AEMS board member.

"He was very hands-on. He just didn't write a check about the things that he cared deeply about," Ms. Mears said. "He'd go at things with a sense of urgency and a 'Let's roll up our sleeves' attitude. His interest was always very personal and he was intensely committed."

Mr. Myerberg was a member of the AEMS board at his death.

When Duke was contemplating a new art museum, Mr. Myerberg got behind the project with his usual enthusiasm and advocacy.

In addition to endowing an art scholarship at Duke, Mr. Myerberg donated his and his wife's personal collection of art and paintings, which includes works by Baltimore painter Herman Maril, Fernand Leger and Giorgio de Chirico.

Mr. Myerberg's wife's 35-year struggle later in life with multiple sclerosis prompted him to endow research studies into the disease at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"He was a major donor for multiple-sclerosis studies at Hopkins as well as in other medical areas. He was always extremely generous with his time and money," said Dr. Richard J. Jones, professor of oncology and medicine who is co-director of Hematologic Malignancies Programs at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Hopkins.

"I was Alvin's oncologist and got to know him because of caring for him. I've known him for more than 20 years," Dr. Jones said. "He was one of a kind. He was unique, incredibly smart, generous and humane. He also could be single-minded when he had to be."

In addition to collecting art, Mr. Myerberg was an accomplished cook who enjoyed entertaining family and friends.

"He was self-taught and was known for his duck a l'orange flambe, chicken soup, chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake and apple pies," his son said.

Mr. Myerberg was a member of Har Sinai Congregation.

Services were Sunday.

Also surviving are two daughters, Wendy Jachman of Owings Mills and Jennifer Myerberg of Columbus, Ohio; a sister, Phyllis Siegel of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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