A 4-Star Restaurant Catered Our
Company’s Picnics in Hermann Park
By Bill Cherry
There’s an interesting paradox. Most of America – its governments, its factories and its businesses – for nearly the first two hundred years was primarily built by people with varying degrees of education.
But what is empirical is that at least percentage-wise, not much of America’s workforce had ever attended a college or university. Mostly, the U.S. was built on aggregated street smarts.
Nevertheless, in America’s formative years, interest, desire and tenacity easily overtook the need for a serious amount of formal education.
And that is a fair assessment of the successes of Houston businessman, Israel Rudy and his older son, Alan.
Israel Rudy and Morris Kagan opened a grocery store and butcher shop on Houston’s Washington Avenue a long time ago. It became what today we would call a super market. They were young then, and with small children.
The store prospered.
The store took on serious growth just after World War II, when Houston’s population expansion began to validate as being far more than that of an aberration.
Oil was fast becoming the king of the Texas economy while contemporaneously the City of Houston was becoming a bearable place to live. That was primarily the luck of the draw.
You see, Willis Carrier had just invented the modern air conditioning system, and Houstonians’ homes and businesses scrambled to install them. It enabled the town that shouldn’t be to be the town that could be.
The city’s reputation for thick, stifling heavy summer heat then took a backseat. And with the growth of the population came rabid residential and commercial real estate growth.
And that’s when Israel Rudy and Morris Kagan saw a niche, and it wasn’t building a chain of grocery stores. They would leave that to their friends, the decedents of Harris Weingarten.
Houston needed warehousing. Israel Rudy and Morris Kagan surmised that most real estate investors would be focusing on commercial office building, retail buildings and apartments.
After all, warehouse ownership wasn’t thought to provide glamorous talk at cocktail parties, so they knew it would be a wide-open real estate investment niche.
Rudy and Kagan followed their intuition and it took them to their pot of gold at the end of their rainbow. One investment after another, and soon their accumulation resulted in the partnership amassing significant wealth.
Israel Rudy had three children, Alan, Diane and Steven.
When Alan graduated from high school, he went to the University of Texas, fell in love and came back to Houston and got married before he graduated. That was moments before the world ushered in 1965.
He tried selling women’s clothes; that turned out to not be his calling.
That’s when he reinvented himself.
With enough money to get a real estate broker’s license and have a telephone hooked up, he borrowed office space in an abandoned lumber yard, put a slab door on two sawhorses to simulate a desk, and he began soliciting friends for business.
Within a few years, he and three of his friends – Harold Goldstein, Henry Bickart and Louis Freedman – became Columbia Communities, Inc., and began building garden apartments, townhomes, condos and single family homes.
One day Alan Rudy was in Galveston on business and he stopped by my office to say, “Bill, my brother Steven and his business partner, Gordy White, bought an old bungalow near the beach, and they’ve been trying to sell it. You need to help them.”
He and I got in his Mercedes 450SL and drove to see it.
“My God, Alan, each of the four outside walls is painted a different color! Look at that – there’s a yellow one, a green one, a red one and a purple one. No wonder they can’t sell it,” I said somewhat exasperated.
“Well,” he said, “Steven said they had four gallons of paint left over from other projects, and they decided to use them here.” He looked at me like I was being unreasonable about the motivation and the appearance that resulted.
“I want you to sell it for them,” he said. “You’re supposed to be the best, and after all, this is your hometown. Surely you must know someone…”
I listed the property, and the headline on my newspaper ad was “Here’s Your Chance to Own Galveston’s Ugliest House.”
I still remember the lead. It began, “Even if you’re not in the market for a house, you’ve got to drive by just so you can tell your friends that you’ve seen this one in person.”
We got an enormous number of phone calls, and the house quickly sold.
Alan called. “Cherry,” he said, “Meet me in Clear Lake City for breakfast. I want to talk with you.”
He said that if I could sell Steven and Gordy’s house with the four different colored outside walls, he and his partners needed me to market for them at Columbia.
So Sandy and I moved to Houston.
My job was to head the part of the company that built and sold homes. I immediately loved the job. In fact I have one of my Columbia business cards framed and hanging on my office wall here at “World Headquarters.” “William S. Cherry, Vice President,” it says.
Columbia was full of very smart and talented employees, and I believe that was Alan’s forte. He knew how to pick those who would totally embrace his business plan, creatively working together toward the goal of causing the company to make enormous amounts of money and to have a good time doing it.
And all of us were well paid; sometimes even with a participation in the profits of a deal that especially hit the jackpot.
Once I was given a check that was large enough for me to buy a fine grand piano that I had always wanted.
It was nothing for a pretty spring day to inspire Alan to proclaim that receptionist, Frances Van Horn, should forward calls to the answering service, while he would arrange for a 4-Star restaurant to cater an extemporaneous softball game and party under the trees at Hermann Park.
Naturally, the catering staff arrived in limos as their way of further validating what we already knew: the intrinsic value of an over the top president.
Copyright 2013 – William S. Cherry
All Rights Reserved