The Wendel Family of NY-A Very Unusual Dynasty

A recent NYTimes (April 10, 2016) profiles the Wendel family – NY real estate tycoons who avoided publicity and luxury, refused to sell their holdings and drove the city crazy. According to the article by Julie Sadow, the Wendels owned more than 150 properties in NYC which would be valued today at more than $1billion. The family (six sisters and a brother)- all unamrried, lived together in a shuttered mansion at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. Their financial strategy was never mortgage property, never pay for repairs and never forget that Broadway moves uptown at a rate of 10 blocks a decade. In their day they paid more real estate taxes than anyone else. Sometimes they would have buildings sit vaccant if they could not find the tenant they wanted. They refused to rent to saloons, restaurants or theaters. Sometimes they were generous deeply discounting rents for those who could not afford it or keeping a vacant lot for children as a playground. According to the article in the Times after the parents death the brother lorded over his sisters and opposed any matrimonial unions as it would disperse the family wealth- only one sister ever married and it was after her brother’s death. She was too old to have children. The last surviving sibling left the fortune to charities. 2003 “relatives” came forward to challenge the estate.
One can only wonder what the intended legacy was – survival of the immediate family differs from dynastic survival, dispersion to charities is not a perpetual foundation. It is fascinating that a family can have the fortiutde to build this dynasty, not see the parth to family survival, the impact of procreation or the ability to hold dynastic wealth together as what would have appeared to have been a signficant part of their legacy.

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