Lou Kahnweiler, a Chicago real estate pioneer, died at the age of 97 on February 26. He laid the foundation for many others and left behind a real estate legacy built over eight decades.
Kahnweiler is the co-founder of what are now the Chicago offices of Colliers International. His nephew and Colliers Chairman and CEO recalls his uncle’s resilient reputation.
“Lou lived his life with integrity and drive,” David Kahnweiler said. “While only 5-foot-4 with a generous measurement, his personae projected him at 6-foot-10. He was a fierce competitor but a fair combatant. I can truly say in my 38 years in the business, I never heard a derogatory word said about him other than he was a tough negotiator and rigid in retention of his values.”
Kahnweiler grew up on the South Side Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. He graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1937 and then from Northwestern University with a bachelors degree in business in 1941.
After service with the Office of Naval Intelligence during WWII, Kahnweiler took a job with Louis B. Beardslee & Co., a Chicago real estate brokerage firm while waiting to begin law school at Northwestern University.
At the firm he was told to find a buyer for an industrial building. So, he took out an advertisement in a newspaper, and to his surprise, the building was sold. He looked at his share of the commission, a $4,000 check, and chucked his plans for law school.
In 1946, Kahnweiler set up a brokerage shop with Jules Milten and later Marshall Bennett joined the firm. Three years later Milten left the partnership and the company became Bennett & Kahnweiler.
They brokered properties and constructed small industrial buildings on the Northwest Side. In 1957, the company moved into the national spotlight when they partnered with the Pritzker family of Chicago and Texas tycoon Clint Murchison Jr. to launch Centex Park in Elk Grove Village. At the time, it was the nation’s largest industrial park with 2,250 acres, 1,500 companies, 40,000 employees and a value of more than $1 billion.
When Bennett left the firm in 1982, Kahnweiler decided to create an office-leasing department and hired Richard Berger to run it. In the first three years, the department went on to arrange $500 million in office leases.
Berger, who still manages the department, recalls, “Lou seperated himself from the herd by being a constant voice of integrity and kindness in the harsher world of real estate commerce. From the moment I joined his firm I was proud to be part of his legacy.”
Today, Colliers Chicago employs more than 250 people in its two Chicago offices including a staff of 100 brokers and more than 125 property management professionals.
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