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Kislak's Legacy Still Spans US Commercial Real Estate

Founder of Major Private Mortgage Lender Also Gave the U.S. the World's Oldest Printed Navigational Map
October 5, 2018
Jay I. Kislak

Jay Kislak, who built one of the largest privately held U.S. mortgage banks, celebrated his 95th birthday last year with a big party on a World War II museum and relic: The USS Intrepid aircraft carrier. It was fitting, because the ship was part of his own history – Kislak had been an aviator on the carrier, years after he had already earned his real estate license while still a New Jersey high school kid.

Kislak, the chairman of the Kislak Organization who died this week at age 96 at his home in Miami, enjoyed history as much as being a part of it. He once owned and later donated the first printed navigational map of the world to the Library of Congress.

His family’s commercial real estate empire started in New Jersey, and the Kislak name is a common sight on leasing signs in New Jersey, along with the monikers of other area real estate families like Hanson and Klatskin.

"A lot of the military discipline he brought with him added to his professional approach in the banking and mortgage operations and giving back to the community, because you serve that long in the military you realize you’re doing it for your country," said Ken Thomas, a retired professor at Kislak's alma mater, Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, who is now president of Community Development Fund Advisors in Miami.

Kislak left a commercial real estate legacy in the brokerage his father Julius started in 1906 in the northern part of the Garden State, and a large mortgage bank operation in Miami Lakes, Florida.

Kislak was also a philanthropist known for donations, including a large gift to Monmouth University in 2006 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Kislak business. With those funds, the school in West Long Branch, New Jersey, started offering a degree in real estate and it renamed its program the Kislak Real Estate Institute.

The business was in Kislak's blood. He got his first real estate license while still a student at Newark Academy, according to a statement from his company. He earned a degree in economics from Wharton, graduating early to serve as a naval aviator in World War II. He had flown off the Intrepid during the war, according to the Miami Herald.

When he came home to New Jersey in 1945, Kislak joined the family real estate business full time, and the industry became his life’s work. The Kislak company started out in Hoboken and moved to Jersey City and later to several Newark, New Jersey, sites before ending up in Central Jersey, said Alan Hammer, an attorney in Roseland, New Jersey, who specializes in real estate.

"For many, many years it was an important player in the apartment field, and a broker in many fields over many years," Hammer said of the Kislak company. "Many of the people in the business got started there."

Hammer's father, Morris, worked at Kislak in New Jersey before going out on his own to co-found Gebroe-Hammer Associates, a Livingston, New Jersey, real estate brokerage.

In the early 1950s, Jay Kislak moved his family to Miami, and started what would become one of the country’s largest privately held mortgage banks, originating and servicing loans nationwide for more than 40 years. Today the Kislak Organization focuses on real estate investment and brokerage.

Jay Kislak's impact was really nationally and in Florida, according to Hammer.

Kislak was also a collector of rare books, maps, manuscripts, paintings, prints and artifacts. He and his wife Jean created the nonprofit Jay I. Kislak Foundation for the conservation and study of materials related to the cultures and history of the early Americas.

Today, his legacy has transcended real estate to become part of United States historic culture. In 2004 Kislak donated more than 4,000 items to the Library of Congress. The collection is on permanent display and features one of his prize acquisitions: The 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria, the first printed navigational map of the world by the German mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller.

Linda Moss, Northern New Jersey Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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