Eugene H. Webb, who grew up in Alabama with modest ambitions but founded the largest black-owned real estate management company after his transplant to Harlem, died on April 5 at his Mount Vernon, NY, home when he was 102.
His death was confirmed by Webb & Brooker, the New York-based management, leasing, and sales company he founded with George M. Brooker in 1968 that oversaw thousands of homes generating tens of millions in rents.
In addition to his work at the firm where he became chairman emeritus, Webb was among the founders of Carver Federal Savings Bank and Freedom National Bank (which closed during a recession in 1990). Both banks had a reputation for lending to potential Black and Spanish home buyers in neighborhoods like Harlem where applicants had reflexively been turned down by other banks.
Mr Webb also played a prominent role in Harlem's controversial redevelopment story, when new projects often raised fears that old Harlemites would be driven out. He was part of the team that built the US $ 60 million Renaissance Plaza on West 116th Street in the late 1990s, comprising 240 cooperative apartments and more than 60,000 square feet of retail space.
"Eugene was a pioneer whose impact on diversity in this industry is largely unknown," New York President James Whelan's Real Estate Board and Chairman Douglas Durst said in a statement.
Eugene Henry Webb, the great-grandson of a slave, was born on November 18, 1918 in Red Level, a town in southern Alabama, to Eddie Webb, whom he never knew, and Docia (Foster) Webb, who worked as a cook in a local cafe. She raised him in what was aptly called Sandy Bottom in Greater Birmingham.
He grew up in a shotgun house, a southern style, barely ten feet wide, with end-to-end rooms. It was heated by lumps of coal that he and his brothers got from passing trains.
"We rented. We didn't own any land. We didn't own anything," Webb told HistoryMakers Digital Archive in 2004.
He left Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama to get married and worked in a coal mine before finally getting his dream job in a steel mill. After a little over a year, he decided he had higher expectations and it was time to move on.
He moved to California, where he waited on tables in a hotel. He later worked as a waiter for dining cars on the New York Central and Seaboard Air Line railways.
He joined the Navy around 1941 and served in the Marshall Islands for most of World War II.
He was fired in New York where a friend suggested he consider a career in real estate. He was licensed after taking classes at the Pohs Institute in Lower Manhattan, and after building a professional reputation, managed to make connections with established firms that referred business to him.
"The deal they didn't want was like a no-brainer for me," he said. "They didn't need it, they say," Give it to Webb. "
In the case of Mr. Webb, connections were also made through Daniel L. Burrows, a founder of the United Mutual Life Insurance Company. Mr. Burrows was a Democratic powerhouse in Harlem and the father-in-law and mentor of future Mayor David N. Dinkins. Mr. Webb later became president of the insurance company.
Mr Webb was a registered Republican who was clearer than political, despite saying he proudly voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
New York State hired Webb & Brooker in 1970 to manage properties that were taken over for the redevelopment of Times Square. By 1976, the company managed 6,000 homes in 20 properties in Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
"In Harlem, we pooled rents of around $ 20 million," Webb told the New York Times earlier this year. "Do you realize what that means when this money goes to local businesses to hire black plumbers, painters and contractors?"
He and Mr. Brooker formed the Harlem Real Estate Board, of which Mr. Webb served as President. After Mr. Brooker's death in 1993, Mr. Webb took on a political role in the real estate company, transferring operational control to Bernard Warren, who remains president.
Mr. Webb was a trustee of Miles College and Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
His survivors include his third wife, Danna (Wood) Webb, a lawyer whom he married in 1999; his daughter Brenda; five grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson.