By Liana Grey
Melvyn Kaufman, an executive at the William Kaufman Organization, died last week at the age of 87.
The enigmatic real estate figure is credited with creating some of the city’s more whimsical landmarks.
Under his leadership, the firm developed office towers like 77 Water Street, which has a World War I fighter plane on the roof, and 767 Third Avenue, home to a wooden front porch and the world’s largest chess board.
After founding the company in 1924, Kaufman’s father, William, made his fortune building single-family houses, apartment buildings, industrial properties and retail spaces.
He later launched Sage Realty Corporation, the company’s leasing and management division.
When Kaufman and his brother, Robert, returned from military service during World War II, they shifted the company’s focus towards developing and refurbishing office towers.
In the early 1950’s, the brothers built their first Midtown high-rises: 405 Park Avenue and 711 Third Avenue. The latter was among several towers that helped revitalize Third Avenue following the demolition of the elevated railroad that once ran from the Bronx to Battery Park.
Today, the William Kaufman Organization owns six Class A buildings in Manhattan, all of which include ground-floor open space for tenants to mingle; over the last 70 years, the company has emphasized quality of life, aware that tenants spend as much time at the office as at home.
777 Third Avenue is currently being renovated (the porch, for instance, is being replaced by a more modern metal and stone entryway), and 437 Madison Avenue is slated to undergo a makeover next, according to Jonathan Iger of Sage Realty.
In recent years, the organization has also begun acquiring portfolios overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom.
In an obituary in the New York Times, real estate reporter Carter Horsley described Kaufman as “a romantic, a surrealist, a purveyor of kitsch and a genuine iconoclast and rebel.
“He was a maverick and his rivals considered him something of an oddball, but they also respected the quality of his buildings.”