After more than six decades spent amassing an apartment empire in Boston, one of the city’s biggest and most storied landlords is stepping down.
Harold Brown is expected to announce Friday that he’s retiring from Hamilton Co., the real estate firm he launched in 1954 when he bought a brick apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue in his native Allston for $20,000. Today, Hamilton owns 5,600 apartments and 1.3 million square feet of commercial space, worth an estimated $2.3 billion.
At 93 years old, Brown has weathered the ups and downs of several real estate cycles. He has built and rebuilt a real estate business around modest apartment buildings bought at value prices, and in 1991 he survived what was the largest bankruptcy case ever filed by an individual businessman in Massachusetts. Along the way there was a guilty plea for bribing a city building inspector, notorious battles with tenant groups and, more recently, a reputation for building and leasing modestly priced apartments in a city where luxury housing has become common.
“Harold Brown has provided housing for thousands of Bostonians, at a wide range of incomes, for decades,” said Brian Golden, director of the Boston Planning & Development Agency. “And he has continued to address the needs of our diverse population during a period of tremendous growth.”
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Brown adopted a classic playbook for Boston landlords: He bought buildings at bargain prices, held on to them as rents rose, and used the profits to finance the next deal. He focused first on student-heavy neighborhoods like Allston-Brighton, where he grew up the son of Russian immigrants, and gradually expanded into other parts of town, and into new development.
In recent years, Brown’s holdings have grown even more, swelled by the city’s surging market and by growth in other corners of Eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He had said in past interviews that he had no plans to retire, but now, he says, Hamilton Co. is well-positioned to move on without him at the helm.
“It’s time,” said Brown, who will remain as Hamilton’s chairman emeritus. “Our company is in great shape. We have great people in place. And I’m always around to help out.”
Guilliaem “Rusty” Aertsen, a longtime associate and former BankBoston executive, will take over as chairman, while Brown’s son Jameson Brown and chief financial officer Andy Bloch will serve as co-chief executives.
Brown’s strategy has worked well for decades, Aertsen said, and there are no plans to change it.
“With our scale and financial strength, Hamilton can choose to acquire, develop, or simply build liquidity to take advantage of opportunities as they arise,” he said.Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.