The Dursts: Going Strong
You may remember Robert Durst as the twitchy, hollow-eyed subject of this past winter’s HBO documentary series The Jinx. His clan, the New York Dursts, operate one of the oldest and most prominent family-run real estate companies in the country. It recently celebrated its centennial.
In 1926, the family’s patriarch, Joseph, who came from Eastern Europe with next to nothing and made a fortune selling dresses, made his first significant real-estate investment: He purchased the Temple Emanu-El building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street. The synagogue, which dates back to 1868 and housed New York’s oldest Reform congregation, went for $7 million, making it “one of the most valuable parcels of real estate of its size in the world” at the time. Joseph tore it down to make way for shops.
Joseph continued buying buildings, and his children owned so much of Midtown for so long that, in 2002, The New York Times quipped, “Maybe every Durst gets a Times Square of his own.” And, although tradition is for the third generation to blow the family fortune, Douglas, the son who took over when it became clear that Robert, his older brother, was less than stable, seems to be maintaining it. He is the developer of the Condé Nast Building and as well as One World Trade Center, or the “Freedom Tower,” the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere.
Current Status: #59 on Forbes’ 2015 list of America’s Richest Families, with an estimated net worth of $5.2 billion
The Goulds: Going Bust
Jason “Jay” Gould, the original 19th-century robber baron, is one of the richest American citizens of all time and possibly one of the richest people, ever.* He made his money in railroads, by attempting to corner the stock market, and by being what CNBC has called one of the worst CEOs ever:
Gould sold out his associates, bribed legislators to get deals done, and even kidnapped a potential investor. He duped the U.S. Treasury, pushing up the price of gold and prompting a scare on Wall Street that depressed all stocks. After hiring strikebreakers during a railroad strike in 1886, he was reported to have said, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
Where did his billions go?
Jay had several children and, among them, they married a Tallyrand, a Baron Decies, and a Drexel. Jay’s oldest son, George, inherited the family fortune. George had seven legitimate and three illegitimate children, all of whom he recognized in his will. But more of George’s money went to creditors than to his offspring: He had $30,000,000 to bequeath when he died, according to his obituary in the Times, down from his father’s peak of $77,000,000 (not adjusted for inflation). Yet even that was later revised down by the Times to only half as much. After the creditors were paid off, George’s children were said to collectively receive a little over $5 million in 1933 dollars.