In Canyon of Heroes, a Trader Quietly Built a Real Estate Empire

(Bloomberg) -- One of New York’s most discreet property empires is hiding in plain sight.

In the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, just steps from Wall Street’s Charging Bull, stands 11 Broadway, a 22-story office building that investor Moses Marx first bought about four decades ago. A few blocks north is 160 Broadway, where he runs his empire and whose ground floor McDonald’s once featured a grand piano above the entrance. Nearby you’ll find 225 Broadway, the 44-story neighbor of the Woolworth Building that he purchased from Harry Helmsley in 1983.

In Canyon of Heroes, a Trader Quietly Built a Real Estate Empire

It’s here, in a stretch of towers famous for boisterous ticker-tape parades celebrating moon landings and sports heroes, that Marx quietly went to work building a fortune that the Bloomberg Billionaires Index now values at $1 billion.

“He never made himself into someone who talked about his accomplishments,” said Seymour Lachman, a former New York state senator whose Long Beach summer home is near Marx’s. “You don’t have to be Trump to be successful. Marx is not that type of individual at all.”

Eastman Kodak

Marx, an octogenarian Orthodox Jew, fled with his family from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. He survived tumultuous years as a trader on New York’s Commodity Exchange, or Comex, and later invested in stocks and startups.

Filings show he’s the controlling shareholder of Berkshire Bancorp Inc., a New York-based lender that caters to high-net-worth individuals and small and mid-size businesses. He also controls a 13 percent stake in Eastman Kodak Co., which almost doubled to $30 million this year after the 130-year-old firm said it was embracing blockchain technology.

Marx, when reached by telephone, declined to comment on his life story and net worth and wouldn’t even confirm his age. Such reserve has been a hallmark of a career in which he and co-investors have focused on steadily accumulating property.

“Typically he’s never a seller,” said Brian Ezratty, vice chairman and principal at broker Eastern Consolidated, who persuaded Marx to part with a lot in Soho for $34 million in 2005 after years of trying to bring him to the table.

The genesis of his fortune came from the hurly-burly world of Comex, where he was a prominent floor trader in the 1970s and ’80s. With a knack for making money, he traded for his own account through his United Equities Co.

“He had a mathematical mind, a genius mind in figuring out spreads,” said Norton Waltuch, a fellow trader at the time. “He had a computer in his head.”

Those smarts were put to the test as the Hunt brothers’ infamous attempt to corner the global silver market led to a quintupling of the metal’s price from August 1979 to January 1980. Like all traders -- known as scalpers or locals -- Marx’s income depended heavily on the silver market.

Marx, a member of Comex’s board of governors at the time, voted for restrictions on silver trading that ultimately forced the Hunts to abandon their positions. It wiped out the Texas family’s fortunes as they mortgaged everything from real estate to horses to personal trinkets to pay their debts, according to “Beyond Greed,” a 1982 account of the silver bubble.

“We had a lot of decisions to make at Comex,” Henry Jarecki, a bullion dealer who served on the board with Marx at the time, said in a phone interview. While “a lot of people got hot under the collar, Mo was always considered.”

In the aftermath of the silver scandal, Marx started parlaying his trading profits into real estate near the exchange, attracting some colleagues as co-investors, Jarecki said.

‘Plain Fellow’

Today, his empire stretches beyond Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes and includes a multistory car park as well as holdings in the Bronx’s Riverdale neighborhood, property records show.

Despite his success, Marx isn’t flashy. His charitable foundation, which doesn’t have a website, had $54 million of assets at the end of 2016, filings show.

“He was a very plain fellow,” Waltuch said in recalling his fellow trader. “No airs, no fancy clothes. He drove a Cadillac that was slow and spewed out black smoke.”

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