Bob Simon (1914-2015)
We lost a commercial real estate titan yesterday when Reston founder Robert E. Simon died at his home in the community he founded. He was 101.
The entire DC community is in mourning today, knowing the centenarian who remained the smartest guy in the room until the very end is gone. His last public appearance, as far as we can tell, was at Bisnow's future of Reston and Herndon event this summer, where we snapped the above photo. Bob reminded the crowd of his initial vision for Robert E. Simon Town (Reston), when he bought the land more than 50 years ago, including $2M of his own money (that's equal to about $16M today). He wanted a place with diversity in incomes and people, with trails, lakes and European-style open plazas. It didn't go according to plan for decades after his investors forced him out in 1967, but the tide is finally turning.
Bob founded what he called a "New Town." He didn't envision Reston Town Center, a towering urban core right off the Dulles Toll Road, but came to embrace it. Boston Properties owns much of the town center, and vice president of development Pete Otteni says Reston's "staying power is a testament to the foresight of the man at its genesis, and its economic and social successes are proof of its core tenets. Like others before and after us, Boston Properties has always felt compelled to do what we could to honor the man and his vision, and to further its implementation."
Pete went on to add, "Into his late 90s, Bob remained focused on the progression and protection of his New Town, and his voice carried weight that was second to none when one or more of his opinions rang forth...Bob leaves a lasting memory that those of us who know and love Reston and who live, work and play here will never forget. Bob will be sorely missed, but his legacy is alive and well in the New Town that bears his name. Long live Robert E. Simon Town."
Architect Mitchell Freedman of The M Group Architects said he and his wife first met Bob at the McCormick and Schmick's opening in the RTC in the late 1990s. "I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with or listening to Mr. Simon on several occasions since," Mitchell tells us. "Most recently, on the evening of Sunday, March 8, he gave his view of the past, present and future of Reston to a small group of us at The Beloved Yoga Studio. During the Q and A session, he showed an amazing wit and clarity of thought. I know I’m not alone in saying that his oft presence and unique energy will be sorely missed."
Since Bisnow's inception, we've written plenty on Bob's life and work; it's a rich topic. In 2011, he spoke about how he met his fourth wife, Cheryl Terio-Simon, in the building they shared overlooking Lake Anne. Bob would eventually move into Cheryl's 13th-floor condo. In 2013, we caught up with Bob to hear his ideas on a 500-seat theater to the north of Reston Town Center, just after he celebrated his 99th birthday. A month later, we gave Bob our fifth Bizzy award. And earlier this summer, this reporter visited a 101-year-old Bob, snapped in the above photo, and had the privilege of talking about his upbringing on Long Island, why the Silver Line isn't the revolution people think it is, and how Reston National will always be a golf course no matter what the developers who want to capitalize on the Metro line want to do.
During an interview stroll around Lake Anne Plaza in 2013, it was clear Bob, who was nearly 100 at the time, was a local celebrity. People smiled, waved and wanted pictures taken with him. During that interview he revealed that Reston was “more or less” how he had envisioned. He always thought it needed more plazas. He had also thought Reston Town Center would be more lab space for research firms rather than corporate offices filled by tech companies, but he was thrilled with how it turned out. He also remembered the satisfaction he felt when Rolls-Royce moved its HQ out of Reston and then had to come back after employees complained. Of course he had a quick answer for his secret to longevity: a gin martini. Not vodka and none of those “fruity liquids” they’re serving nowadays. Just gin. A toast is in order, so when you're schmoozing after work tonight, raise a glass to an icon, Bob Simon.