Lefrak, Samuel J.

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LEFRAK, SAMUEL J. (1918–2003), U.S. builder and philanthropist. A champion of middle-income housing, the Brooklyn-born LeFrak headed a family company that produced more living space than any other in the years after World War ii. Through four decades, LeFrak led the Lefrak Organization, founded in the United States by his grandfather, Aaron, in 1905, putting up almost 200,000 houses and apartments in the New York City area. He said he "went into the business" at the age of eight, carrying buckets of water and nails for workmen at construction sites. When he started working for the family company full time in 1940 it was building army camps and housing. His father, who had bought a 2,000-acre farm in Brooklyn in the 1920s and had been building there long before World War ii, turned the presidency over to him in 1948. He held it until 1975, when his son, Richard, became president, with Samuel retaining the title of chairman. After he took over the company, he built wherever he could buy reasonably priced land, always following the principle that housing should be close to subways, schools, and shopping. "I adopted another S – safe," he said.

LeFrak's signature building was a six-story brick apartment house, a standard feature of Brooklyn and Queens, and his buildings stressed security systems that were advanced for their day. His Lefrak City, with 5,000 apartments and two million feet of retail space, included swimming pools, doormen, and television surveillance in the elevators. At Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan in the early 1980s, he built 1,800 apartments and in the 1990s there was his Newport development on the Hudson River shorefront in Jersey City, a $10 billion residential and commercial project that can house 35,000 people.

A noted art collector and philanthropist, he served on the boards of 36 hospitals, colleges, and schools, and many buildings are named for him and his wife, the former Ethel Stone, whom he married in 1941. They include a concert hall at Queens College, a gymnasium at Amherst College, a meadow in Flushing, Queens, a learning center at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, and a classroom building with an amphitheater at the University of Maryland, which he attended. He financed expeditions in underwater archeology, once in search of seventh-century Byzantine shipwrecks off the coast of Israel. He also helped finance a search for Noah's Ark, which the Turkish government refused to allow to go forward, and the successful search for the ss Titanic.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]