Jim Clark, 1927-2015.
Clark Construction has become such a ubiquitous presence in Washington, it’s been possible to forget there was a great figure behind it—added to the fact he was a man of few words and avoided publicity. We’re pleased we had a chance to see him in action over the years, and took some pictures to commemorate his extraordinary life and legacy.
We snapped Jim in February 2009 at the dedication of the Spanish Education Development Center in Petworth reading to some of the 160 kids a year it serves. With daughter Courtney Clark Pastrick and Boston Properties' Ray Ritchey (both pictured with Jim above) and other supporters, the SED building was built in a just emerging Petworth and has been serving hundreds of kids, adults, and the whole Hispanic community ever since. Tonight by coincidence are the (sold out) SED Center Pub games in Penn Quarter—which have become a big success and just one example of causes Jim quietly funded.
They don't make life stories like they used to. Today the greatest businesses seem to spring up overnight from dorm-based entrepreneurs and Internet-fueled stock. Jim Clark built his the old-fashioned way—by starting at the bottom (in 1950 as a field supervisor at Hyman Construction), helping expand it, buying it out, and then over many decades stitching together countless construction projects, getting both fees and astute equity pieces. A key business partner was Oliver Carr, whom we snapped with him in October 2010 at a Boys & Girls Club luncheon. Jim told us he first met Ollie in 1960 when he saw a sign on the old Mills Building at 17th and Penn that said “George Fuller Construction” and decided he wanted to build there and have his sign up instead—in time for the impending JFK inauguration. From his small office at 1010 Vermont, he cold-called Ollie at the Mills Building—and they ended up partnering on a replacement. Jim told us he couldn’t remember any Carr building he did not subsequently build.
And he was hands-on, using AU accounting courses and experience estimating projects to expand profitably coast-to-coast. But despite his beloved homes in Vero Beach and Easton, he remembered DC. Here we snapped him (and top colleague Larry Nussdorf) in January 2007 at his 12-story Capitol View building on 3rd St SW, which he said was very special to him because he had bought it 30 years before. It was also unusual because it was a building of which Clark Enterprises owned 100%. Of course, Clark was better known for building FedEx Field, Verizon Center, Nats Park, innumerable Metro stations, and basically the “big and hairy jobs” that absolutely had to be done right. It has grown into one of the biggest contractors in America, whose flag flies far from DC as well on projects like San Diego’s Petco Park and more recently mammoth SalesForce Tower in S.F.
Here's Jim in December 2008 with another philanthropic great, Dave Reznick, as the Washington Business Hall of Famers celebrated the induction of several others, including Peterson Cos’ Milt Peterson and Rand Construction’s Linda Rabbitt.
Your publisher served in 2002 as chair of the Washington Business Hall of Fame and got a small glimpse of Jim’s understated impact. (Jim was recognized that year with fellow superstars Bill Marriott, Joe Albritton, Esther Smith and Jack Valenti.) For an event video, we met Jim for an interview on a bluff overlooking construction of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. There was quite a bit of noise in the background from hundreds of workers. When our cameraman mentioned that, Jim whispered to an aide, and seemingly within seconds the entire site stopped work so we could finish. Jim had that kind of power, that leadership ability, and that respect. He will be greatly missed, but his company, and the landscape and standard that it created, will long live on.