The Giant at 90: Oliver Carr is Still Pioneering
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The landscape of DC has changed radically over the decades, but it hasn't happened by itself. Visionaries made the changes. Oliver T. Carr Jr. is foremost among them. We are thrilled to welcome him as he keynotes our summit on DC's current "Repositioning Renaissance" May 28. We hope you'll join us.
Ollie, as he's known, turned 90 on April 25. He may look 25 years younger, but he remembers every colorful detail of a huge career, and comes into the Willard Office Building every day not writing his memoirs, but still working actively at that standing desk (which a former employee gave him 50 years ago), guiding the rapid expansion of a company, Carr Workplaces, at the leading edge of office development.
Ollie is the key figure who stepped forward after the DC riots of 1968 to begin the redevelopment of the damaged and neglected urban core of the city.
He redeveloped such prominent properties as the Mills Building across from the White House…
and built the 1.2M SF International Square at 1850K…
…586k SF Metropolitan Square across from Treasury…
…Terrell Place near Verizon Center, and eventually 28 properties in the city and suburbs (like Alexandria) totalling 11M SF.
He is also the one, of course, who brought back to life the historic Willard Hotel, where Lincoln lived in the days before his inauguration in 1861. The state of the city 100 years later was such that the hotel had closed in 1968 and sat deteriorating for more than a decade until Carr won the right to restore its original grandeur. (There he is with NY Sen. Pat Moynihan at opening day in 1986.)
Today the Carr Cos continue to operate it with the InterContinental Hotels Group.
It was all in Ollie's blood: His father and grandfather were also builders in DC, starting in 1885 when Solomon Carr arrived from Leicester, England. Ollie grew up at 5053 Mass Ave in AU Park in a house designed by his Uncle Bob, who also painted this picture Ollie keeps in his office.
He went to Deal and Wilson in the District, and one of his high school classmates was none other than developer Albert Small, who last month sent him their class of 1943 photo. (Albert will be celebrating his own 90th this October, the very same day as their friend Ted Lerner celebrates his. Mark your calendar: Oct. 15.)
There’s Ollie. Or “Otts” as he was called back then (based on the way you’d pronounce his initials, OTC).
Washington was such a Southern town back then, Ollie says many people over the years have accused him of having a Southern accent. It was also so small that in his 20s he used to get off the bus, walk down 17th toward the Mills Building, where he worked with his dad, and regularly wait for the traffic light to change with Harry Truman, who was known for his morning constitutionals like the one above.
In a footnote to history, Ollie's second floor office overlooked Blair House, where Truman was living while the White House was being renovated. When Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate the President, he witnessed the gunfight that took place from his office window.
Ollie's company went public in 1993, became a REIT, and renamed itself CarrAmerica in 1996, gathered 255 properties in 12 markets across the country, survived the buzzsaw of recession, and sold to Blackstone in 2006 for $6.5B.
But instead of retiring to his beloved Maine, Ollie reinvented himself. Today he is as sharp as ever, and has returned to his role as a pioneer in real estate—leading Carr Workplaces as it attempts to create spaces for entrepreneurial professionals and startups to operate in a community environment. Ollie is thrilled by modern trends in urban living—he used to be a runner (for decades doing a round trip every morning between mile markers 5 and 8 on the Tow Path), but in more recent years walks everywhere and therefore is at one with the Millennial love of walkability. In short, he remains on top of trends, and is the perfect person to tee up our conversation later this month on DC’s Repositioning Renaissance—which is effectively a continuation of what he started long ago. Thursday, May 28, at the Ronald Reagan Building.