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Developer Robert H. Smith Dies

Patricia Sullivan

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.

RobertHSmith2004.JPG 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.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  December 30, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel , Washington DC-area people  
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If you've ever lived in Charles E. Smith rental property you've learned what "gouging the renters" is all about. Good riddance.

Posted by: TooManyPeople | December 30, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

attn, WP writer of this item - CES died in 1995, not 1985. and - don't quite understand the "also died Dec 30" reference. if RHS died on Tues, that date was Dec 29th. and for what the Smith/Kogod families have given and done for the Washington D.C. area, it's sad to see that you-all don't appear to have anything ready to print on him.

Posted by: alexandriavirginia | December 30, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

"'s sad to see that you-all don't appear to have anything ready to print on him." Sad is subjective, incompetent is the new Quinn/Weymouth Post. You can bet if Mr. Smith had sponsored a "salon" for the movers and shakers he would have gotten the red carpet treatment.

Posted by: SoCali | December 30, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I won't dignify SoCali's comment with a response.

Alexandriavirginia, a blog posting is a living organism, and we write them in between reporting the full story, arranging interviews, finding photos, and discussing the play and placement of the article with editors. We have a lot of advance obits ready but not one for EVERY person of note. Have a little patience and you'll see the complete obit in a matter of hours.

Posted by: Patricia Sullivan | December 30, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

"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."

This sounds like a pittance now, but I believe it was more than many home mortgages in the early 1960s.

I worked in Crystal City for some years, so it's interesting to hear more of the history. The fountain there is lovely - maybe the Post can include a photo in the full obituary.

Posted by: RossEmery | December 30, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Under the leadership of Bob Smith & Bobby Kogod, the Charles E. Smith Companies were the best managed properties in the area and tenants received value for their rent.

Robert Hilton Smith was a man of excellence and grace, deserving the accolades showered upon him.

Posted by: dillerw | December 31, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Bob Smith, employed my father as a young
project manager, he was mentored by Marvin Declebaum.
His company and practices, set the standards of the Highest Ethics,Professionalism, Humility and The highest standards ever seen in Developers
Smith Companies, Richmarr,Archstone,and now Smith Mortgages.
Set standards that never will be attained
again in my lifetime.
His companies paid the best, and invested in thier employee's a free education wheather GW,UMD, or Georgetown
Family, and families of his employee's,were very important to him. As well as his Jewish identity, and sending any and all college student of Jewish Descent to Isrial to work.G-d's work was accomplished a thousand fold over and over.
His companies also owned most of New York, Specifically Howard Hughes Holdings which wikpedia sites as the most successful venture on record.
Everything he did was the best and for the glory of G-D.

Posted by: gd4u | January 6, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

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