MILSTEIN: The Rise And Schism Of A Powerful New York Family

milstein hall museum of natural historyThe Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at The American Museum of Natural History

Photo: Flickr/freezr

If you’ve stepped foot in New York, you’ve probably run into a Milstein creation and just didn’t realise it.The family has been ruling New York’s real estate development and philanthropic worlds since the 1960s and has left behind a legacy that’s nothing short of extraordinary.

All their success, however, didn’t come without a hairy side. Check out how this legendary clan came to rule New York and what drove two formerly inseparable brothers to stop speaking.

Morris Milstein moves to the US and starts his own flooring company

Morris Milstein (b. 1897)--the patriarch of New York's legendary Russian Jewish Milstein Clan--emigrated to the United States from Russia as young man. Settling in the Bronx, Morris began working as a floor-scrapper.

In 1919, Morris began what was the first in many Milstein ventures, Circle Floor Inc.

As the company grew, so did the scale of its projects. You can thank Morris for installing the floors in Rockefeller centre, the United Nations campus, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports and Lincoln centre, among other New York City landmarks.

Source: Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation

Business booms and sons Seymour and Paul take over

Morris had two sons--Seymour (b. 1920) and Paul (b. 1922)--who quickly took to the family business.

Paul joined his father in running Circle Floor while Seymour manufactured tile.

Source: Forbes

But it's the real estate market where the brothers find their calling

Brothers Paul and Seymour decided to try their luck in the real estate development business, founding Milstein Properties in the late 1950s.

The first notable Milstein Properties project was the Upper West Side megabuild, Dorchester Towers, which was completed in 1964.

Source: The New York Times

Although Paul doesn't abandon his father's company entirely

In 1968 Paul sold Circle Floor to National Kinney (the parent company of Chiquita Bananas) and put his profits into Milstein Properties. The rest was history.

But the Milsteins didn't abandon their father's operation entirely; National Kinney brought Paul on as its CEO in 1971.

Source: The New York Times

Seymour and Paul were as close as brothers get

The brothers were close business partners, allegedly playing regular tennis games against one another, vacationing as a family in Puerto Rico and lunching daily at the now-defunct Rainbow Room.

Source: The New York Times

Their aggressive real estate practices made enemies in New York...

The duo ran into some trouble when they were tearing down New York's Biltmore Hotel in 1981 to build an NYC headquarters for Bank of America.

Although Paul promised protestors that he would leave the hotel's Palm Court Lobby, his team stripped the lobby bare.

He apologized some years later with a $500,000 donation to the New York Landmarks Conservancy foundation.

Source: The New York Times

And in Washington...

Paul managed to make his way onto the former President's famed enemies list, released shortly after Watergate.

Source: Forbes

But they had friends too, like those who benefited from the revitalization of Times Square

Not all that the brothers did was bad.

The family was instrumental in revamping formerly run-down NYC neighborhoods Times Square, Battery Park City and Lower Harlem.

Source: Forbes

In 1986 they switched gears once again, buying New York's oldest savings bank

After nearly conquering the New York real estate scene, the brothers extended their efforts to banking.

Seymour and Paul purchased Emigrant Savings Bank (the oldest savings bank in New York) for $90 million in 1986. At the time of Paul's death in 2010, the bank had assets upwards of $14 billion.

Source: Forbes

Despite their banking successes, the Milstein clan began to unravel from within

The brothers struggled with how they would pass along the family business to its third generation.

Seymour thought they should sell their businesses, while Paul thought they should divide and distribute them among the heirs--Phillip (Seymour's son) and Howard (Paul's son).

Problem was, each was sceptical of the other's son and his ability to lead.

Lawsuits followed.

Source: The New York Times

Source: The New York Times

In 2003 the family split its assets and the heirs went their separate ways

Little is known about the agreement, as the family refused to comment on it to the media.

What is known, however, is that Howard is now CEO and President of Emigrant Savings Bank and its holding company New York Private Bank & Trust and Philip Milstein is a principal in Ogden CAP Properties.

Sources: The New York Times and Columbia University

But their legacy in New York is undeniable...

Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History

Milstein Hall, home of Cornell University's School of Architecture Art and Planning (Designed by Rem Koolhaas)

The Milstein Family Heart centre at New York Presbyterian Hospital

The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History at the New York Public Library

The Paul Milstein Pool and Terrace at the Metropolitan Opera

Care for something a little more mysterious? Check out the Safra Family

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