Tony Goldman was a visionary developer and preservationist who saw bright futures for blighted neighborhoods.
His company, Goldman Properties, transformed Miami Beach from a moth-eaten retirement enclave and narcotics war zone into a celebrity playground, and Wynwood from a gritty warehouse district and homeless encampment into a vibrant arts center where monthly gallery walks draw thousands.
He saved many of Miami Beach’s decaying Art Deco gems, and invited artists to use his Wynwood buildings as canvases. He salvaged sketchy areas of New York City and Philadelphia that anchored major urban revitalization.
“Ocean Drive went from being relatively non-existent to one of the major destinations of the world,” said Craig Robins, a Goldman protegé who redeveloped Miami’s Design District. “Tony was the central person in getting South Beach going.”
In 2010, when Goldman won the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s highest honor, the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award, Trust president Stephanie Meeks said, “At its core, preservation is about recognizing the value of historic buildings and neighborhoods, and restoring life to places that define and enrich our communities. That is what Tony Goldman does, and nobody does it better.”
Four years ago, following a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Goldman underwent a double lung transplant. Afterward, “his health was an issue, but he never let it get in the way,” said his wife, Janet Ehrlich Goldman. The Vietnam War-era veteran of the U.S. Army died of heart failure Tuesday at a hospital in New York, the city where he launched his real-estate empire with a single Upper West Side brownstone in the 1960s. He was 68.
Born to a single mother on Dec. 6, 1943, in Wilmington, Del., he was adopted at birth by Tillie and Charles Goldman of New York City, who named him Richard Anthony Goldman and raised him in comfort on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with a brother and a sister.
In his 50s, he reconnected with his biological parents, Shirley and Ray Meyers, who married after Ray returned from World War II. They, their daughter and two sons, became a welcome part of Goldman’s life, said Janet Goldman.
Goldman’s childhood inspired his passion for saving old buildings, said his daughter, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, who succeeds her father as Goldman Properties’ CEO.
“He never felt like he had his own roots. Historic preservation is about preserving roots. He didn’t know his own history so preserving history was very important.”
During a meeting Wednesday, Miami Beach commissioners honored Goldman with a moment of silence.
Mayor Matti Bower noted that he “came here during the time when Miami Beach was really down and out, and he put his money into this community. He bought [Art Deco preservationist] Barbara Capitman’s vision, had the vision to invest here, made Ocean Drive what it is today. He believed there was money in preservation and he made it happen here.”
David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Cafe, at 900 Ocean Drive, called Goldman “a leader of leaders. ... He walked [Ocean Drive] and then led us in walking that street and turning around, not just seeing the ocean, but seeing the buildings once again.”
From that came “color and music, entertainment, food and all the wonderful things that we enjoy as our prosperity,” he said. “That is what Tony brought: Prosperity.”