He helped remake Center City

Posted: January 27, 2010

Jack Wolgin, 93, a developer, banker, and philanthropist whose imprint on Center City ranges from the modern complex that helped shift the geographic focus of downtown office development west of City Hall, to the tourist-stopping Clothespin statue, died yesterday at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Philadelphia native left his mark not only with such developments as Centre Square at 15th and Market Streets, another office high-rise at 1700 Market St., and the Rittenhouse Hotel project, but also with the art he helped encourage.

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED JANUARY 28, 2010, FOLLOWS: An obituary yesterday for the developer Jack Wolgin gave an incorrect name for the former interim dean of Tyler School of Art, Terry Dolan.

Claes Oldenburg's Clothespin at Centre Square has been described as Mr. Wolgin's most influential public-art commission.

At Temple University's Tyler School of Art, the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts recognizes emerging artists. The Curtis Institute of Music, where Mr. Wolgin had been a trustee, holds a series of orchestral concerts in his name each year at Verizon Hall. He also funded a student fellowship.

In the 1970s, it was in the world of Center City development that Mr. Wolgin reigned.

"Before Bill Rouse ruled Center City, Jack Wolgin was the guy," said David Binswanger, president and chief executive of the Binswanger real estate firm in Philadelphia. "Centre Square, for example . . . gave people like Bill Rouse the impetus to say, 'Let's build One Liberty' and kind of take it down the line."

Centre Square's twin towers, designed by the firm of prolific Philadelphia architect Vincent G. Kling, were considered an elegant solution to the city's unofficial building-height restriction - the peak of the William Penn statue atop City Hall. One Liberty Place would break through that barrier in the 1980s.

Though the One and Two Liberty Place complex and Commerce Square's collection of buildings each are bigger than Centre Square's 2 million square feet, what made Mr. Wolgin's project so remarkable, Binswanger said, is that it was built all at once rather than over a period of years, as the others were.

Centre Square effectively shifted the center of the downtown office market from south of City Hall on Broad Street to west of City Hall on Market Street, Binswanger said.

Among those who followed Mr. Wolgin's lead on Market Street was Donald Pulver, who was erecting 1234 Market St. east of City Hall while Centre Square was under construction. Then Pulver headed west - as in next door to Centre Square, where he put up 1600 Market on the old Fox Theater site. On the other side of Pulver's building was Mr. Wolgin's 1700 Market St.

"He definitely created the vacuum that we got pulled into," said Pulver, whose Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. has since shifted its development emphasis to the suburbs.

Centre Square was "an exciting project because it was redesigned just before it was to be built, because it was over budget," Pulver said. Mr. Wolgin had the $80 million project - twin office towers with a common lobby and a subway connection - redesigned from steel to concrete.

"They literally were drawing it as they were building it," Pulver said.

Mr. Wolgin's experience on Rittenhouse Square was even more harrowing. It would involve a protracted court battle when Mr. Wolgin's banker, doubtful that the proposed condo tower would ever be completed, stopped funding it, Binswanger said.

For years, that high-end neighborhood was marred by the hulking, half-finished triangular high-rise, which Mr. Wolgin ultimately sold to a developer who completed the job. It is now part hotel, part condominiums, with a steak house on the ground floor. Mr. Wolgin lived in the Rittenhouse for many years.

Gov. Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor, called Mr. Wolgin "a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners business guy [who] was an important contributor to the life of the city and region."

To his friend John Gallery, head of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, Mr. Wolgin was a greater force because of his philanthropic contributions.

"I think his real lasting legacy is as an art collector and a patron of the arts," Gallery said.

A $3.7 million gift from Mr. Wolgin enabled Tyler School of Art to establish the Wolgin Fine Arts Prize, a $150,000 cash award believed to be the world's largest juried visual-art prize granted by a university and awarded to an individual.

In October, the first prize was awarded at an event Mr. Wolgin not only attended, but participated in despite a recent stroke.

"He was very courageous in the decisions that he made artistically and wasn't afraid to be in the avant-garde," said Terry D. Olan, former interim dean at Tyler. That was borne out, she said, in his insistence that the prize reward an artist "whose work transcends traditional boundaries and exemplifies the highest level of artistic excellence."

Raised in Logan, Mr. Wolgin attended Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law before becoming chief civilian contracting officer for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps during World War II.

In the years that followed, he displayed an entrepreneurial streak. Mr. Wolgin invested in stocks, purchased land, helped create a bank, formed a home-improvement financing company, bought major mortgage and petroleum companies, and helped organize Pennsylvania's first real estate investment trust.

His corporate roles included director and member of the executive committee of Industrial Valley Bank & Trust Co., president and chairman of the Properties Investment Corp., and a trustee for the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and Brooks Harvey Realty Investors.

In his philanthropic endeavors, Mr. Wolgin was a founder of the Theater of the Living Arts and served as president of the Philadelphia Art Commission. His community activities were vast, including service on the boards of Albert Einstein Medical Center, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Greater Philadelphia Federation of Jewish Agencies.

A devoted supporter of Israel, he established the Wolgin Prize for Scientific Excellence at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

Mr. Wolgin is survived by a daughter, Barbara Wolgin Burwick; six grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren, and a companion, Claire Boasi. A daughter, Deborah Pashman, died in 1996, and a son, Mark, died in 1994.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Joseph Levine & Son, 4737 Street Rd., Trevose. Burial will follow at Roosevelt Memorial Park.

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Sally Downey and Alan J. Heavens contributed to this article.

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