The autobiography of the man who played a real-life game of Monopoly
and won the largest real estate empire in history.
"I speak about an extraordinary American pioneer of immense imagination, courage and nerve . . . a man of fathomless loyalty, generosity, and public spirit. Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again. I only hope that ambitious young Americans eager for genuine achievement rather than ordinary financial and social success will take a chapter from the book of William Zeckendorf."
-Robert Moses, from his eulogy at the services for William Zeckendorf
October 3, 1976
"Bill Zeckendorf's interest in architecture was both genuine and intuitive. He often said with relish that he would gladly spend 10% more on good design for he could then make ten times more on his investment. That was in the early 1950's when few, if any, real estate developers actually believed that 'good design is good business."
Real estate developers have big egos and big plans. They are indefatigable promoters for their deals. They are unrelenting optimists. Developers tend to bounce from dramatic economic highs to precipitous lows- back and forth. Bill Zeckendorf was no exception. What made Mr. Zeckendorf special was his love of making blockbuster development deals such as the site acquisition for the United Nations, Roosevelt Field Mall, virtually all of Wall Street, Place Ville Marie, Century City, Society Hill to name a few. Bill Zeckendorf was truly a pioneer in real estate finance. His innovation and understanding of complex capital structure enabled him to make deals that others could not (e.g. The Hawaiian Technique). He also knew that great design sells itself. Why else have I.M. Pei and Harry Cobb, two of the world’s most talented architects, on staff? Bill Zeckendorf’s passion was achievement in monumental developments and deals; money was merely a by-product of his efforts.
A lot has happened since Bill Zeckendorf was working his magic on the American urban landscape. For one, real estate has become more institutional. Once in a while, a developer appears on the scene who is a highly creative character, driven to produce innovative projects with the power of personality to make it all happen. It is these visionaries that take our civilization a step or two forward. Look for him or her in the news. Like Bill Zeckendorf they are exciting and inspiring.
John Colt Landreth