WILMINGTON, DEL. (Nov. 19) ? Builder and developer Leon N. Weiner, saluted this year by the National Association of Home Builders as the "conscience of the housing industry in America," died Nov. 17 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 82.
Mr. Weiner, a 53-year veteran of the housing industry, was a hands-on executive who remained active in his business, Leon N. Weiner & Associates, Inc., of Wilmington, until becoming ill in late October.
His experience as a builder and developer includes a variety of residential and commercial properties: single-family homes and townhouses, high-rise and garden apartments, hotels, office complexes and retail centers. His exemplary efforts to provide affordable housing for low-income families and the elderly brought him national acclaim, distinguished honors and appointments to three presidential commissions on housing and related issues, including the Kaiser Commission on Urban Housing, which led to the landmark Housing Act of 1968. He was inducted into the National Association of Home Builders Housing Hall of Fame in 1979.
"Leon Weiner was the living embodiment of the effort to achieve the goal of 'a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family' as set forth in the Housing Act of 1949," said Gary Garczynski, president of the National Association of Home Builders and a builder/developer from Woodbridge, Va.
"He was known throughout the housing industry as 'the conscience of the housing industry in America,' and played a key role in developing housing policy and forging consensus at the national level," Garczynski said. "We will miss Leon's outspoken, enthusiastic and effective advocacy for housing. Our industry has lost one of its brightest lights."
"Leon Weiner represents the very best of our great industry," said National Association of Home Builders Immediate Past President Bruce Smith at a ceremony in February when Mr. Weiner was recognized as "the conscience of the housing industry in America." In June, a life-size bust of Mr. Weiner was placed on display in the National Housing Center, NAHB's headquarters in Washington, D.C. He is the only individual to be so honored.
Mr. Weiner, a third-generation builder who grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from Overbrook High School and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He came to Delaware in the late 1940s.
One of the first communities developed by Mr. Weiner was Dunleith, south of Wilmington, in the early 1950s. Dunleith was the first racially integrated housing development marketed in Delaware.
Another landmark of Mr. Weiner's career was his work in the 1960s with a consortium of developers to purchase the first 1,100 acres and build the mixed-use development of thousands of townhouses, apartments, single-family houses, parks and commercial centers east of Newark that is Pike Creek Valley.
In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Mr. Weiner developed Wilton, a 470-acre planned community of more than 2,400 homes, apartments and condominiums south of New Castle at the intersection of U.S. 13 and U.S. 40, paving the way for development of the U.S. 40 corridor west through Bear to Glasgow. He brought the first WalMart to New Castle County at Wilton and also built the Adams Four Shopping Center, the first new full-service shopping center in Wilmington in 30 years, in 1984.
High-rise housing for senior citizens in Wilmington is another important part of Mr. Weiner's legacy. His projects have included Baynard Tower, Lincoln Towers, Compton Towers, Windsor Apartments, Herlihy Apartments and The Antonian.
Leon N. Weiner & Associates is about to break ground on another signature project, the Village of Eastlake, an owner-occupied and rental community of townhouses and duplexes on the site of the former Eastlake and Riverside public housing projects on Wilmington's East Side.
Over the years, Mr. Weiner's firm was responsible for the construction of more than 5,000 homes and 10,000 apartment units in Delaware and nearby Pennsylvania. The firm and its subsidiaries have also built or managed residential communities in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina.
Also, in Georgia, the company and its associates restored the historic Jekyll Island Club and transformed it into a four-star luxury hotel, resort and conference center.
Mr. Weiner's influence in the home-building industry extended far beyond the areas where his businesses actually constructed homes and apartments.
In 1967, he served as president of the National Association of Home Builders. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Mr. Weiner to the Kaiser Commission. In 1971 he was appointed to the White House Commission on Aging. From 1980 to 1984 he served as a public interest member on the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh.
National experts rank Mr. Weiner at the pinnacle of his profession.
"He was not only a champion, he was a doer. His legacy will be not just his words, but his actions," said Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Clearly, he was one of the legends of the housing industry."
"Leon Weiner has been the soul and conscience of the housing industry for decades," Dr. Kent Colton, professor at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, said in 1999.
Andrew Cuomo, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, places Mr. Weiner on a par with legendary developers William Levitt and James Rouse, describing them as men who said "don't tell me what is, but what should be, and we will make it a reality."
William T. McLaughlin, the former mayor of Wilmington, had the opportunity to observe Mr. Weiner's work both in housing production and as an agent of change. In times of racial turmoil, Mayor McLaughlin said, "blacks were always suspicious of what whites were going to do for them, and with just cause. But Leon was sincere. He was one of the pioneers."
Honors and awards received by Mr. Weiner include: the National Housing Conference's Housing Person of the Year in 1973; the Fair Housing Person of the Year awarded by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris in 1979; the Gerald E. Kandler Memorial Award from the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Foundation in 1991; Homebuilders Association of Delaware homebuilder of the year and Delaware Housing Coalition developer of the year in 1991; National Multifamily Builder of the year by the National Association of Home Builders and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation in 1992 and 1993; the M. Justin Herman Award from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials; and the Ambassador Award from the Delaware Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials in 1993.
Mr. Weiner is survived by his wife Helen; a daughter, Jan Hey of Marshallton, Pa.; a brother, Dr. Oscar R. Weiner of Philadelphia, and his wife Joan; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Weiner's life will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the Riverfront Arts Center, 800 S. Madison St., Wilmington.