Seymour Durst

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

Seymour Bernard 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]

Durst was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City,[1] a son of Joseph Durst, a Jewish immigrant[3] from Gorlice, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (present-day Poland),[2] and Rose Friedwald.[1][4][5]

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. He had four siblings: Roy, Alma, Edwin and David.[1][2] In 1931, Durst 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, Durst noticed a book on the history of New York City by a German author 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 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 at 120 East 61st Street. After Durst's death in May 1995, the library was first relocated to the City University of New York in the 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.[citation needed]

Seymour Durst was vocal about his beliefs that the government should not interfere in real estate transactions. However, his son and successor, Douglas Durst, received interest-free, government-issued Liberty Bonds under Governor George Pataki, and also successfully used eminent domain to facilitate the family's growing real estate empire. The former subsidized the cost of building massive projects in both midtown and downtown Manhattan, and the latter enabled the Durst family to take holdout properties on West 42nd Street, where 4 Times Square and 1 Bryant Park would be built.[6][7][8]

Durst was also concerned with the 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.[9]

Personal life[edit]

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

Bernice Herstein Durst (September 6, 1918 – November 8, 1950) died in 1950 at age 32 by falling or jumping off the roof of their family home in Scarsdale.[10] 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.[11]


After 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.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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 "The Durst Organization". Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  3. ^ Wall Street Journal "Taking the Helm to Change City Landscape" January 10, 2011
  4. ^ Museum of the City of New York: "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Durst (neé Rose Friedwald) with their daughter" retrieved May 23, 2016
  5. ^ Bagli, Charles V. (May 16, 2016). "David M. Durst, Developer of Manhattan Towers, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016. 
  6. ^ "The Durst Organization". Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  7. ^ Cuozzo, Steve (2003-09-05). "DURST AND BOFA EYEING $650M IN LIBERTY BONDS | New York Post". Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  8. ^ "His Midtown Plan Got A Federal Boost". NY Daily News. 2005-12-08. Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  9. ^ Daniels, Lee A. (November 8, 1991). "Chronicle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  10. ^ Bernice Herstein Durst at Find a Grave
  11. ^ Traub, James (October 6, 2002). "The Dursts Have Odd Properties",, October 6, 2002; accessed August 24, 2016.
  12. ^ "Family Fortunes". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-12-24. 

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. 

External links[edit]