Seymour Durst

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Seymour Durst
Born (1913-09-07)September 7, 1913
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Died May 15, 1995(1995-05-15) (aged 81)
New York, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Education B.A. University of Southern California
Spouse(s) Bernice Herstein (m. 1940; died 1950)
Children Douglas Durst
Robert Durst
Thomas Durst
Wendy Durst Kreeger
Parent(s) Joseph Durst
Rose Friedwald

Seymour B. Durst (September 7, 1913 – May 15, 1995) was an American real estate investor and developer. He was also a philanthropist and the inventor of the National Debt Clock.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Seymour was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.[1] He is the son of Joseph Durst, a Jewish immigrant from Gorlice, Galicia, Austria-Hungary, and Rose Friedwald.[2][3] His father was a tailor who arrived penniless to the United States eventually becoming a successful dress manufacturer and then expanding into real estate management and development.[2] His father was also very active in the Jewish community, serving on the executive committee of the Jewish Education Association and serving as president of the Hebrew Free Loan Society for 27 years.[2] He has four siblings: Roy, Alma, Edwin and David.[1][2]

In 1931, Seymour graduated from the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, the Bronx. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Southern California, where he majored in accounting.[1]


In 1940, Durst joined the real estate firm, The Durst Organization, which had been founded by his father. After his father's death in 1974, Seymour became more involved in the company. The company invested in Manhattan real estate, based upon Durst's belief that one should never buy anything one cannot walk to.[1]

While on holiday in Paris, France in the early 1960s, Seymour noticed a book on NYC history by a German author named Klein in a mom and pop bookstore. He later remarked, "I figured if a German wrote a book about NYC that was available in Paris, that this was an interesting subject indeed." Gradually, over time, what started as a hobby resulted in a remarkable private collection that came to be known as The Old York Library. Originally housed in a brownstone on East 48th street in midtown Manhattan in the 1970s, the library later moved to another brownstone on East 61st Street.

Over the years, Seymour warmly received many visitors to the library who enjoyed his assemblage of old postcards, surveyor's maps, first editions, Leslie's and Harper's newspapers, original black and white film prints and even a vintage turn-of-the-century hand-cranked motion picture viewer that moved various cardboard-mounted images of a dancer one frame at a time. There were also original film posters from the 1930s that used to be displayed near the marquees of the movie theaters of Times Square. Visiting the Old York Library was like taking a magical mystery tour into NYC's Native American, Dutch, English, American Revolutionary-era, Civil War and other fascinating epochs of Manhattan Island and environs. After Seymour's death in May 1995, the library was first relocated to CUNY in this historic B. Altman building across from the Empire State Building. Currently it resides at Columbia University's Avery Architectural And Fine Arts Library where it is open to the public.

Durst was vocal about his beliefs that the government should not interfere in real estate transactions. He was also concerned with the ballooning national debt. In 1989, Durst created and installed the National Debt Clock on a Durst Organization property in order to draw attention to the then $2.7 trillion debt. For a time, the clock had to be temporarily shut down in order to add another digit as the debt continued to climb. [4]

Personal life[edit]

In 1940, he married Bernice Herstein. They had four children:

His wife died in 1950 at age 32 by falling or jumping off the roof of their family home in Scarsdale. It was never determined if the death was an accident or a suicide. Their son Robert has said that he witnessed the event; his brother, Douglas, has stated that none of the children witnessed the accident. Durst never remarried.[5]


After Seymour Durst's death, his son Douglas and nephew Jonathan (the son of his brother David) became more involved in the family business, The Durst Organization.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Oser, Alan S. (May 20, 1995). "Seymour B. Durst, Real-Estate Developer Who Led Growth on West Side, Dies at 81". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e The Durst Organization: Timeline retrieved July 8, 2012
  3. ^ The Durst Organization: "Taking the Helm to Change City Landscape" retrieved July 8, 2012
  4. ^ Daniels, Lee A. (November 8, 1991). "Chronicle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  5. ^ Traub, James (October 6, 2002). "The Dursts Have Odd Properties". New York Times Magazine.
  6. ^ Forbes: Family Fortunes 1998

Further reading[edit]

  • Traub, James (2007). "The Dursts Have Some Very Unusual Properties". The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square. New York: Random House. pp. 241–254. ISBN 0307432130.