Real Estate Boom

Jewish builders and real estate developers played a major role in downtown and in the suburbs during Washington’s postwar building boom.

As wartime restrictions on building ended, builders rushed to meet the pent-up housing demand with new construction in the city’s outer neighborhoods and suburbs. The G.I. Bill provided veterans with low interest rates and made home ownership a reality for many. Several government agencies opened new offices outside the city, while federally supported highway and bridge projects encouraged the growth of new residential and commercial districts.

Many Jewish builders and real estate developers were recent immigrants who entered the business on a small scale, constructing or investing in modest building projects while maintaining a small store. Some firms became family affairs, as sons and daughters expanded from building to selling and managing large properties including apartment complexes, office buildings, and suburban malls and subdivisions.

Photo of Beltway opening

1964: The opening of the Capital Beltway stimulated suburban growth by making new homes more accessible to downtown workers.

Copyright Washington Post; reprinted by permission of the DC Public Library.

Photo of 1825 CT Avenue

1959: Lithuanian-born Morris Cafritz arrived in Washington in 1898. After owning several businesses including bowling alleys, Cafritz built houses and apartments throughout the city in the 1920s. He became known as “Mr. Office Building” when he began developing boxy 12-story office buildings along K Street, NW. His Universal South building at 1825 Connecticut Avenue is shown here.

Courtesy of The Cafritz Company.

Kaywood Gardens lease

1930s-1950s: Russian immigrant Abraham Kay got his start as a grocer on North Capitol Street in the 1920s and began building apartment houses while still running his store. In 1936, he formed Kay Construction Company and built in the Maryland suburbs. Early projects included Kaywood Gardens in Mt. Rainier.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Joseph and Rosalie Gilbert. 2004. 25

Indian Spring newsletter announcing move

In 1939, Kay purchased the Indian Spring Golf and Country Club. He built 300 new homes on the golf course, extending club membership to new homeowners. After Beltway construction threatened the club’s golf course, Kay moved Indian Spring to an expanded new facility in Glenmont in 1954.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Jack Kay. 2000.19

suburban homes by Jack Kay

1950s: Abraham Kay’s son Jack entered the construction business at age 21. He built hundreds of suburban homes and apartment projects in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, such as this housing development in Kemp Mill Estates. He later started Kay Management Company.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Jack Kay. 2008.31

Ad for Washingtonian Towers

1965: Samuel Eig arrived in Washington in 1916 from Russia and soon began building homes in Takoma Park and Northwest Washington. Shown here is the Washingtonian Towers Apartment building next to Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg. When Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg opened in 1990, it was named the Sam Eig Highway.

Courtesy of Montgomery County Historical Society.

Photo of Silver Spring strip mall

1938: Albert Small left his father’s 7th Street, NW, hardware store to sell commercial properties for the Cafritz Company before opening his own business in the 1930s. Built in 1938, the Silver Spring Shopping Center at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, shown here, was one of his earliest projects and the first drive-in shopping center in suburban Washington.

Courtesy of Montgomery County Historical Society.

Somerset House

2000: Albert Small’s son, Albert H. Small, founded Southern Engineering with Herman Greenberg in 1950 and built more than 20,000 homes, condominiums, and office buildings throughout the region. Shown here is Somerset House in Chevy Chase, Maryland, built in partnership with Greenberg, Morton Funger, and Ralph Ochsman.

Courtesy of Albert H. Small.

marketing brochure for Americana apartments

1950s: Carl Freeman responded to the postwar housing shortage by building thousands of contemporary ramblers and garden apartments in Washington and Maryland. Shown here is an advertisement for his garden-style Americana apartments in Silver Spring.

Photo of Wheaton Plaza

1959: The Gudelsky family of Contee Sand & Gravel, Co., Theodore N. Lerner, H. Max Ammerman, and Simon Sherman opened Wheaton Plaza, the area’s first suburban shopping mall (shown here). Later, the Gudelskys, Lerner, and Ammerman built Tysons Corner Center in Virginia. Lerner then teamed with Albert “Sonny” Abramson of The Tower Companies to open Maryland’s White Flint Mall in 1977.

Courtesy of Montgomery County Historical Society.

scan of Crystal City from marketing brochure

1960s: Russian immigrant Charles E. Smith moved from New York to Washington in 1942 and began building apartment houses. By 1960, his son Robert Smith and son-in-law Robert Kogod had joined the family firm. In the 1960s, the Charles E. Smith Company built Crystal City in Arlington, a complex of offices, apartments, and hotels connected by underground shopping and entertainment.

Courtesy of Bernard Gewirz.

Photo of 1776 K Street

1968: Bernard and Carl Gewirz, sons of local developer and philanthropist Morris Gewirz, partnered with Albert H. Small, Robert Smith, Robert Kogod, and Edward Kaplan to develop several buildings along the K Street corridor. Seen here is the Montgomery Building at 1776 K Street that they developed in 1968.

Courtesy of Bernard Gewirz.

Photo of Shannon & Luchs

Salesman Morton Luchs and construction foreman Herbert Shannon opened their full-service real estate office in 1906 and developed neighborhoods like Burleith and Rollingwood. By the 1980s the family-owned firm was one of the area’s largest. Services included insurance, commercial and residential leasing, sales, and property management. The company’s early office was at 704 13th Street, NW.

Courtesy of Kenneth Luchs.

Photo of Beltway opening
Photo of 1825 CT Avenue
Kaywood Gardens lease
Indian Spring newsletter announcing move
suburban homes by Jack Kay
Ad for Washingtonian Towers
Photo of Silver Spring strip mall
Somerset House
marketing brochure for Americana apartments
Photo of Wheaton Plaza
scan of Crystal City from marketing brochure
Photo of 1776 K Street
Photo of Shannon & Luchs