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It Started With the Appreciation of Typography

14 July, 2017

Samuel Elgart Philadelphia

Some splendid, somewhat goofy, typography on Locust Street in Philadelphia.

The Author had merely taken note of ‘Samuel Elgart’ for aesthetic reasons, but upon some newspaper archive digging, has found that Mr. Elgart was not a savory character, at least not in his business dealings! And here, dear reader, begins a deep dive into Philadelphia real estate history.

Samuel Elgart was a Philadelphia realtor and landlord, whom in his 1972 obituary, the Philadelphia Inquirer referred to as ‘controversial’. As the Author discovered through her research in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News archives, ‘controversial’ undersells the criminality and scoundrelry of Mr. Elgart and his companies.

What initially caught the Author’s eye was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer from in 1957, which reported that Mr. Elgart was accused of attempting to bribe an officer of the Department of Public Property. And here we delve into a six year real estate scandal:

In 1951, Mr. Elgart had purchased a plot of land near the University of Pennsylvania for $21,500. Six years later, the City decided to purchase the lot to build a medical center, offering around $40,000. Elgart declined. After some shenanigans the Author won’t attempt to sparse out, the Board of Revision of Taxes put a $99,500 price tag on the lot—more than double tax assessments and appraisals by city experts and independent agencies.

August 1957: Elgart, allegedly went to the office of Samuel Flood, a real estate officer for the City of Philadelphia. Elgart “gave Flood the impression that he wanted to make a quick sale of the property to the city for a sum in excess of $100,000”. Elgart said he would “make it worthwhile” for Flood to expedite the sale. Elgart denied the accusation, claiming he had never intended to sell the lot in the first place.

September 1957: the Attorney General declined to bring charges against Elgart because the evidence was “too ambiguous”. Suspicion was cast on the AG’s decision by the Republican Attorney General candidate (running against the sitting AG in that November’s election. He lost.), who claimed the investigation was a “whitewash” by Elgart’s “political friends” (the District Attorney was a partner in a law firm that represented Elgart).

November 1957: Although Elgart was never charged with bribery, the valuation of the price of the lot was put to a jury. The jury set the price at $68,818, a fair step down from Elgart’s most recent offer of $150,000. Elgart pleas for new trial but is denied.

We move on:

January 1967: Elgart is accused of racial bias. The manager of one of his buildings asked the prospective tenant “if she had any Negro or Puerto Rican friends” and told her they would not be allowed in the apartment. After the prospective tenant paid a $50 deposit, she was informed that the apartment had already been rented out. Shortly after, the same apartment was listed as available. The manager testified that she was instructed by her superiors “not to rent to Negros”.

October 1967: Elgart is ordered to end his discriminatory housing practices. Elgart did not change his ways. He was charged with violating anti-discrimination laws yet again in 1970 and 1972. The City sought to revoke his real estate license.

But, dear Reader, even if you were so lucky to be permitted to reside in an Elgart property, here some of the discomforts you’d encounter:

November 1942: Elgart tried to evict tenants of his property that had been without heat, hallway lights, hot water and bed linen. The eviction was unlawful and stopped by the Office of Price Administration.

August 1946: Elgart brought to court in a fire hazard case.

September 1953: Mr. Elgart’s management company was held responsible for fire damage at one of his hotels (which the judge called “a fire trap”, with oil on the ground, old furniture in hallways and other fire hazards). Guests were awarded thousands of dollars for loss of property and injuries.

January 1964: Mr. Elgart tried to evict a tenant who testified against him at a magistrate’s hearing about a “chronic lack of heat in [the tenant’s] apartment”.

May 1967: Elgart owes more than $2,500 in fines to the city but ignores the fines and subsequent summonses.

August 1967: An Elgart apartment building was declared ‘unfit for human use’ after nearly 100 complaints from tenants and 22 electrical code violations and a faulty heating system.

January 1968: Fined $100 for insufficient heat in his “swank center-city slum”. Donald McDonough of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “four attractive women tenants detailed the conditions” (a necessary detail?) of the building’s lack of heat or hot water, trash-filled corridors, vermin, non-operative elevator, inadequate hall lighting, filthy laundry rooms and emission of heavy smoke on the rare occasions when one of the two heaters was working.

February 1968: Pipes burst in one of his buildings. The building was flooded with water, which quickly froze, and the building was declared a “disaster zone”. Elgart did not make necessary repairs and in an effort to force him to do so, the city withheld tenant’s rent in an escrow account.

June 1970: Elgart settles with the City for $15,000 for 250 violations dating back to 1967.

October 1970 – September 1971: fined at least four more times for violations.

Obviously Elgart was fed up with being dealt these code violations, because in February 1971: Elgart is convicted of assault and battery after spitting on a Human Rights Commission representative who read him a subpena. The sentence was suspended.

Elgart died of a heart condition in June 1972, but the misdeeds of his real estate empire didn’t end there: in December 1972, his company was accused by PA State Attorney of using illegal leases which were “unlawful, unconstitutional, unenforceable, unconscionable, unfair, unclear and deceptive”. One clause in the leases permitting landlords to breaking into tenants apartments and sell their property if the landlord merely suspects that the tenant will break the lease.

And there, dear Reader, if you have gotten this far, is the story of Samuel Elgart and his business dealings. It started out so innocently: the Author merely admired a typeface, and descended into a lengthy research project into the depths of Philadelphia real estate politics.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 July, 2017 2:57 pm

    Reminded me of Carter’s song ‘Sherrif Fatman’ which refers to Nicholas Van ‘what’s-his-face’ (Hoogstraten). Have just read about him, another lovely chap.

    • 18 July, 2017 9:34 am

      Good lord–what a horrid man! I’d never heard of Hoogstraten so thank you for alerting me to him. I must listen to that song now.

      Mr. van Hoogstraten, Mr. Elgart and another certain real estate mogul certainly give their profession a bad name.

  2. Dadork permalink
    15 July, 2017 6:27 pm

    So do you think Elgart is the guy in the middle with the tie or the guy to the right of him with the bow tie that looks like Dali? Quite a character either way. Actually, looks like he was born in Russia (from some research). Weird font.


  1. Typography ‘Round the World* | the Diligent Observer

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