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January 4, 2010  

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“Fellow from Brooklyn and grateful American.” That’s how Robert H. Smith described himself to many of you in the real estate community. Sure, he was a builder-developer and visionary, but he was just as much a philanthropist, family man, and community-builder. When he died of a stroke on December 29 at age 81, it felt as though an era in Washington real estate had passed as well.
1928 Robert H. Smith 2009
He graduated from the University of Maryland’s College of Business and Management in 1950 on a Thursday and went to work the following Monday—typical of the diligence that led Bob to a thriving career over the decades as chairman of Charles E. Smith, the company named for his father.
Brookfield (77K) - in-tex
Crystal City

Bob wanted to transform land into profitable mixed-used development. His best known accomplishment was the creation of Crystal City. Once full of warehouses, junkyards, and decrepit motels, the SE corner of Arlington County soon became an “urban village” with sleek apartments, offices, hotels, shops and restaurants. Many considered the development avante garde when the first high-rise buildings went up in 1963. Thanks to an ornate chandelier in Crystal House, the entire neighborhood got the name Crystal City.


Another eye-catching example: Skyline just off I-395 in Falls Church, with offices, residential, and retail. It was built on free and clear land, contributed by the land owner for a 50% ownership interest, giving the company tremendous flexibility and success.

Bob Smith and George W. Bush

Bob with George W. Bush receiving the National Humanities Medal on Nov 17, 2008. Bob was recognized for his generous support of historical, artistic, and cultural projects including Montpelier, Monticello, and Mount Vernon. He also served as president of the National Gallery of Art, a donor to the Mayo Clinic for Alzheimer’s research, and supporter of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s effort to fight world hunger. At the National Gallery’s 25th Anniversary Dinner, Smith articulated his philosophy regarding philanthropy: "It is important to know not only how to make a living, but also how to make a life. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."

We snapped this of Vornado CEO Mike Fascitelli, Bob, and brother-in-law Bob Kogod at the Capital Hilton GWCAR Conference in February ’09. Bob told us he had just finished renovating Lincoln's Cottage at the Solider's Home off Upshur Street.


With National Trust President Dick Moe at the grand opening of Lincoln’s Cottage in February ’08. The Robert H. Smith Visitor’s Center at the site received LEED Gold certification in April ’09. Dick released a statement following Bob’s death: “Bob Smith was one of the most exceptional and thoughtful people I have ever known. His great success as a businessman was fully matched by his success as a philanthropist. He made a huge contribution to the telling of America’s story through place.”


In a ’08 keynote at the UMD commencement, Bob advised grads that “those who are afraid to fail are never able to reach their true potential.” He spoke of his own “failure” while developing mixed-use projects that suffered when the real estate cycle turned down. From those troubled projects, Bob learned to stick to conservative land acquisition policy. In June ’94, the residential company went public very successfully, and in 2001 merged with Archstone. The commercial division merged with Vornado in 2002. After that, Bob told the grads, he had his commercial “missions accomplished.”


January 12 - Bisnow Breakfast & Schmooze - Event Strategies - Driving Attendance and Managing Costs." BLT Steak - Sign up now!

January 19 - CREW DC - "Roadmap to Economic Recovery" featuring Marci Rossell, former CNBC Chief Economist and Co-Host of Squawk BoxInfo

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