Developer Robert H. Smith Dies
Robert H. Smith, a real estate mogul and philanthropist who created the sprawling government and commercial center of Crystal City in Arlington County, and who built his family's company into the single largest property owner in the Washington region, died Dec. 29 at Winchester Hospital in Winchester, Va. He was 81 and died after a stroke.
Mr. Smith took over his father's business, Charles E. Smith Construction Inc., in 1967 and ran the company for more than three decades with his brother-in-law, Robert P. Kogod. Together they transformed the family-owned construction firm into a multifaceted real estate empire, buildling office complexes, apartment houses and eventually becoming Washington's largest commercial real estate landlords.
Having built a fortune in real estate, Mr. Smith devoted increased attention in recent years to philanthropy, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to universities, museums and historic landmarks. He was the single largest donor to his alma mater, the University of Maryland, which named its business school after him in 1998. Another bequest led to the university's naming its performing arts center for his wife, Clarice Smith. $60 Million Turning Point for U-Md.
Mr. Smith and his wife were noted art collectors who have given many important works to the National Gallery of Art, and their collection of Renaissance Italian bronze sculptures is considered one of the finest in the world. For 10 years, Mr. Smith was president of the National Gallery's board of trustees, and he headed the search committee that named Earl A. Powell III as the successor to the gallery's longtime director, J. Carter Brown, in 1992.
But it was as a visionary builder that Mr. Smith left his greatest mark on Washington. He first began working with his father as a teenager and went against his father's advice when he saw possibilities lurking beyond the Potomac in Arlington. When Mr. Smith first surveyed the area in 1961, it was a dilapidated, somewhat desolate neighborhood far removed from the District's corridors of power.
Negotiating a 99-year lease with a brick company that owned 18 acres of land, Mr. Smith launched the construction of two apartment buildings. He put a crystal chandelier in the lobby of the first building, which he grandly called Crystal House. A one-bedroom apartment rented for $145 a month, with utilities included.
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