Henry Moskowitz had a saying that exemplified his uncanny and unschooled business sense: “I think with my stomach.”
“It was like a musical or artistic talent,” said his closest friend and long-time business associate, Irving Sonnenschein. “He had a gut feeling about business. How did Picasso know to draw a line here rather than there? Henry was never bound by conventional wisdom.”
Moskowitz, a long-time member of a Talmudic study group on the Upper West Side, entered business without a formal education. Yet he became a savvy investor and pre-eminent property owner, respected in many diverse business circles. He founded The Argo Corporation in 1952 and began investing in real estate throughout New York City, which was then just coming out of a recession. He assembled a group of more than 100 investors, many of them fellow Holocaust survivors.
The Broadway Mall Association honored the life and work of Henry Moskowitz in a dedication of the North Mall at Broadway and West 90th Street on Nov. 18. The spot signifies where Moskowitz crossed the street daily. The street lies between his synagogue, Young Israel and the West 90th Street home he shared with his family for over half a century. “He loved to walk, especially later in life,” said Mark Moskowitz, Henry’s son and successor at The Argo Corporation. “He cherished benches to have a little rest.”
Moskowitz experienced great tragedy before becoming a pillar of the Upper West Side. The Polish native lost his first wife and daughter, parents, brother and most of his family in the Holocaust. “He really experienced human nature at its worst,” said Mark. “He had every reason to be defeated, angry, bitter. He was none of those things. He wanted to build things, not to retreat. He derived some kind of strength from his experience.”
After the war, Moskowitz met his second wife, Rose, in Germany. They were married in 1948 and had two children, Sonia and Jacob. The family immigrated to the United States in 1951 and settled on the Upper West Side where sons Dan and Mark were born.
Sonnenschein met Moskowitz shortly after his move to New York, when the young aspiring businessman visited the law office where Sonnenschein was an associate, seeking to acquire property auctioned off by the courts. Sonnenschein was the designated translator between his boss and Moskowitz, who knew little English.
The men were a study in opposites: the analytical lawyer and the untutored entrepreneur. “We took to each other right away,” said Sonnenschein. “He ate a lot of fried eggs in those days, because that’s all he could say in English. Henry did not have a good ear for language, but I could give him the most complex legal document and he could comment on it.”
In 1959, the two friends moved their respective offices of real estate and law to the fourteenth floor of the brand-new Coliseum Building at Columbus Circle. During a meeting with “three experienced, high powered lawyers, and Henry,” for example, “He’s sitting there, turning the pages of a newspaper, and seemingly not listening, until we had reached an impasse. Then he looks up and says, ‘Why don’t you try so and so?’ And that was the solution! He had a very creative mind.”
The cultivation of mind, body and spirit led Moskowitz to live well and long: he died last September at 102. He walked to and from work well into his 80s in all weather.
This natural-born entrepreneur, survivor and grandfather of 10 witnessed myriad sides to history and human nature, from the very worst to the most miraculous. “He was very connected in feeling and spirit to the Upper West Side,” said Mark Moskowitz. “He had a very rich and whole life.” The kind of life “that many, in one lifetime, are not able to achieve.”
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