Robert M. Brasler, 75, developer

Robert M. Brasler
Robert M. Brasler
Posted: June 29, 2012

Robert M. Brasler, 75, of East Falls, a snowy-haired commercial real estate developer with a passion for public service and projects - including a pivotal role in the creation of the National Constitution Center - died Tuesday at his home of complications from intestinal cancer.

"In the arc of his life, he achieved success in the business world," said Mr. Brasler's son Brett. "But he was always actively involved with . . . a number of charitable activities."

John Binswanger, chairman of the Binswanger international real estate company, worked with Mr. Brasler and knew him well.

"We were partners for 20 or 30 years," said Binswanger. "We grew up together, you could say. He was a great real estate guy. But he had a real passion for two things" - construction of a center devoted to the U.S. Constitution, and - an outgrowth of his love of tennis - creation of the Arthur Ashe Youth Training and Education center in East Falls. The center is now known as Legacy Youth Tennis and Education.

Former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell lauded Mr. Brasler Wednesday in an interview.

"So many people owe a debt of thanks to Bob Brasler for the many things he did to help all of us," Rendell said. "He was an incredible businessman and real estate developer who was a true job creator, whose developments often created several hundred jobs in various locations in Pennsylvania.

"He also was an incredible public-spirited citizen. He was the first chair of the National Constitution Center, and when I became chairman I worked with Bob to make the center a reality. And of course his passion for life was tennis and kids, and he became one of the key board members for the Arthur Ashe center."

Brett Brasler said his father, a 1958 graduate of Dickinson College, lived "a classic American story. . . . He grew up in Olney, ended up in the Marines after college, then joined Binswanger."

But Mr. Brasler always sought out more, his son said. He helped organize and run the Mantua Industrial Center, an incubator for minority businesses, and was also involved with the Marian Anderson Comprehensive Sickle Cell Care and Research Center at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

Then, in 1994, six years after Congress authorized creation of a center devoted to the Constitution, Mr. Brasler left Binswanger to became founding president of the nascent organization.

What has become the National Constitution Center, a granite and glass monument on the northernmost block of Independence Mall, was little more than a fuzzy idea when he took over. What should it be? A serious scholarly enclave? An appendage to schools and colleges? An entertaining interactive museum for the general public? And where?

Mr. Brasler and his board were clear that whatever it was, the center should be on Independence Mall. The National Park Service eventually agreed. And he was clear about the goal of the institution: It should walk "the tightrope" between scholarship and entertainment, he wrote in 1996, "between the library, the lecture hall - and those buzzwords of the new museum world, innovation and interaction."

The next year, then-Mayor Rendell became chair of the center's board and Mr. Brasler resigned to give Rendell freedom to make his own decisions, he said at the time.

"He was a strong believer in America," said Brett Brasler. "I know that sounds corny. He truly believed in the principles, and when the opportunity came along, he seized on the idea [of the center] and took a bigger role."

After leaving the center, Mr. Brasler revived a firm started by his father in 1917, Brasler Realty & Financial Services. He was joined by his son Chris in running the business, which focused on large commercial real estate development.

In addition to his sons, Mr. Brasler is survived by his wife, Sibby, and two granddaughters.

Interment is private. A memorial is set for 10 a.m. Sunday at the Germantown Cricket Club, 411 W. Manheim St.


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594, ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or @SPSalisbury on Twitter.

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