Kenneth Kaiserman, 73, developer and civic leader in Philadelphia

Kenneth S. Kaiserman ran a major real estate portfolio.
Kenneth S. Kaiserman ran a major real estate portfolio.
Posted: August 23, 2012

Kenneth Kaiserman, 73, of Philadelphia, a prominent real estate developer known for his passionate support of Israel, Ethiopian Jewry, and the performing arts, died Sunday, Aug. 19, of complications from colon cancer at a New York hospice.

As president and chief executive officer of Kaiserman Co., which was founded by his father, Kevy K. Kaiserman, in the 1920s, Mr. Kaiserman amassed and managed a portfolio that spread over four million square feet of commercial property, including such landmarks as the Bourse, Constitution Place, and the 25-story Rittenhouse Claridge apartment building on Rittenhouse Square.

Other holdings included the Radwyn Apartments in Bryn Mawr, the Springfield Mall on Baltimore Pike, and the PNC Bank Center in Wilmington.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Kaiserman attended Lower Merion High School and graduated from Brandeis University in 1960 with a bachelor's degree in theater. He later became a trustee of the university.

His daughter Amanda Kaiserman-Tosi said he was "obsessed" with the stage, wrote some unproduced plays in his youth, and would have attended theater every night if he could. Some weeks he did.

For 34 years he served on the board of the Philadelphia Theatre Company, a nonprofit committed to showcasing contemporary American playwrights. He was a member of VOX, the New York City Opera laboratory for new works by American composers and librettists.

"I don't ever remember a day when we came home and didn't hear classical music or opera" wafting through the house, his daughter said.

A longtime patron of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mr. Kaiserman served on its executive and building committees, and initiated its Kaiserman Family Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

As a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, he became interested in the circumstances of Ethiopians claiming Jewish ancestry and seeking to relocate to Israel.

His friend David Hyman recalled that in 1989, he and Mr. Kaiserman attended an information session led by the director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, an organization Mr. Kaiserman would eventually lead.

"Ken was a doer and a passionate person," said Hyman, a Philadelphia lawyer. "Right from that first meeting, he was motivated to respond."

Shortly after the two friends took a trip to Ethiopia to see the situation firsthand, recalled Hyman, Mr. Kaiserman responded with a series of philanthropic initiatives that included the building of the Kaiserman Family Synagogue and Cultural Center for Ethiopian Jews in Netivot, Israel, and scholarships for Ethiopian students.

Diony Elias, a 2004 graduate of Brandeis, said he met Mr. Kaiserman at an alumni networking function, "and he immediately became my friend and mentor."

A budding investor in small, multifamily homes, Elias lunched weekly with Mr. Kaiserman, usually at the bistro Rouge, and benefited from his tutelage.

"He saw I was trying to be an entrepreneur," said Elias. "His advice was always: Think bigger. Dream bigger."

In addition to giving advice on real estate, his mentor conveyed his appreciation of art, schooling Elias on the works of Picasso, Braque, and Monet, he said.

An avid traveler, Mr. Kaiserman took his family on annual trips to such locales as the hill towns of Italy, Mexico, and, as recently as January, India. He instilled that passion for travel in his children at an early age.

Kaiserman-Tosi recalled that she and her sister, Laura Kaiserman Dupouy Berent, were little girls in diapers when their father "traipsed us through the Doge's Palace" in Venice, Italy.

In addition to his daughters, he is survived by his wife, Susan; a sister; a brother; and a grandson.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, 480 S. Broad St., Philadelphia 19102, with a reception to follow.

Donations may be made to Brandeis University's Susan and Ken Kaiserman Endowed Scholarship, Att.: Erin Silva, Office of the President, 415 South St., Waltham, Mass. 02453-2728; the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, Adopt a Student Program,; or the general operating fund of the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or

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