|By Trevor Jensen, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 19, 2010--Leonard D. Richman breathed new life into old buildings and employed innovative real estate concepts like syndication as he built a portfolio of urban property that he expanded in the 1970s to include thousands of acres of prime Illinois farmland.
The chairman of IRMCO Properties and Management Corp., whose holdings include the Seneca Hotel on the Gold Coast and the stately Belden-Stratford across from Lincoln Park, Mr. Richman, 88, died of complications from pneumonia Wednesday, March 17, at NorthShore University HealthSystem Highland Park Hospital, said his daughter Jane. He was a resident of Glencoe.
Mr. Richman's real estate career began with investments in apartment buildings on Chicago's South Side in the years after World War II. In the 1960s he spent millions of dollars to convert deteriorating old hotels and apartment buildings into amenity-filled housing for retirees.
Senior citizens from all walks of life quickly filled his buildings, including the Chelsea House in Uptown, which offered residents a formal dining room as well as medical and dental offices, barber and tailor shops.
"We filled a great need," said Janice B. Greenberg, who joined IRMCO in 1964 and is now president.
Mr. Richman argued for what he called "architectural rebirth," fixing up old buildings, sometimes in tired neighborhoods, to provide reliable housing to a diverse group of residents
"He believed that if you treat tenants well and have high expectations for them, they will respond in kind," his daughter said.
No detail was too small for Mr. Richman. As his daughter put it, "he was the kind of guy who know how many fibers were in the carpets of his hotels."
Among his longtime commercial tenants was restaurateur Richard Melman, who found Mr. Richman to be a tenacious and sometimes difficult negotiator when they first met in the early 1970s.
But Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc., came to consider him a friend and business mentor.
"He was a teacher for me in that he got me to focus on what I needed to focus on," Melman said. "He was just on top of things, persnickety and tough, but ultimately fair."
As Melman's business was taking off, Mr. Richman offered advice in tune with his practice of paying attention to the basics.
"He told me 'Rich, there's something very basic about your business,' " Melman said. " 'You gotta serve hot food hot and cold food cold.' "
Mr. Richman was the son of an Eastern European immigrant father who became a successful furrier with Adolph-Richman, a Chicago company that was in the family for 50 years.
After graduating from Hyde Park High School, he received a degree from Harvard University, where he studied economics, then worked briefly in Washington, D.C., before getting into real estate in Chicago.
In the early 1970s, he began to buy Illinois farmland, acquiring vast acreage in the rolling hills of northwestern Illinois. He took an intense interest in the cattle and crops raised on his farms, and could talk knowledgeably about soil nutrient levels and other agricultural minutiae as he rode across his property on horseback.
The two spheres of his real estate holdings, city and country, were reflected in his standard office wardrobe: A custom-tailored white shirt with bow tie, and a spacious pair of bib overalls.
Mr. Richman is also survived by his wife, Joan; two other daughters, Kay and Susan; a sister, Phyllis Friesleben; and five grandchildren.
Services are set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Weinstein Funeral Home, 111 Skokie Blvd., Wilmette.
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