Sam Israel, 95, Owner Of Many Seattle Buildings, Dies
Sam Israel loved to say he'd never count his properties because in Jewish law you never count your blessings.
He also rarely sold them. And when the shoemaker-turned-real estate mogul-turned cattle rancher died late Saturday night at 95, he still owned most of the turn-of-the-century Pioneer Square and downtown Seattle buildings he'd bought since the late 1920s. Court documents filed in 1990 estimated Israel's net worth at between $100 million and $200 million. And he still considered himself "an old shoemaker," say family members.
Mr. Israel immigrated to Seattle with his parents, three brothers and a sister in 1919, following his two older brothers, Jack and David, from the Isle of Rhodes.
He was a shoemaker and soon opened a tiny shop on First Avenue. He never married, says his nephew Eddie Hasson, "He used to say he'd proposed a few times but was always turned down."
He began buying old buildings in the late 1920s but continued working as a shoemaker until 1945 when his Samis Land Co. needed full-time managing.
His philosophy was to keep the buildings as they were and keep the rents low, his nephew says, a way of doing business that the company still follows today.
That philosophy was controversial; he was criticized for not keeping up many of his buildings.
But Pioneer Square would not look the way it does today if it weren't for Sam Israel, Hasson says. "There are many small businesses that could never pay the rent of renovated buildings today."
Among the downtown buildings he owned over the years are the Gatewood Hotel at First Avenue and Pine Street, which the city of Seattle has leased for low-income housing, the Collins Building and the Hartford Building, both at Second Avenue and James Street, the Washington Shoe Building at Occidental Avenue South and South Jackson Street, The Galland Building at Second Avenue and University Street, and many others. In the early 1980s tax records listed 68 Israel properties in greater Seattle. Deeply religious, he gave lectures on Judaism around town, because he wanted to educate others.
In his early years, Mr. Israel loved to hike on Mercer Island. In 1927 he bought a lot on North Mercer Way at Fabens Point, and lived there until 1961. But by then he'd tired of city living and, turning his business management over to family, he moved to Soap Lake, where he became a cattle rancher.
He stayed there until 1990, when he had a stroke and wasn't expected to live. The family brought him to Seattle, where he lived at the Kline Galland Home, a nursing home, for his remaining years.
He is survived by his sister, Bona Hasson, and numerous nieces, nephews and extended family.
A funeral was held this afternoon. The family suggests remembrances to the Kline Galland Home.
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