Obituary: Kenneth Goldsmith / A force behind development of Pittsburgh's First Side

Oct. 12, 1924 - March 21, 2014

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Real estate broker Kenneth Goldsmith spent most of his life in Squirrel Hill, but the roles played by the personable civic volunteer in Braddock and Downtown's First Side section left their own considerable mark.

Mr. Goldsmith, a B-17 Flying Fortress crewman on dozens of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, was an active figure well into his 80s in the business world through his K. Goldsmith & Co. And for decades when he was younger, he put his energy, abilities and funds into boosting medical services in the Mon Valley, historic preservation throughout the region, vibrancy of the local Jewish community and other causes.

Mr. Goldsmith, who was 89, died of natural causes Friday at UPMC Canterbury Place, Lawrenceville, where he had lived the past several months.

He began working in commercial real estate in the mid-1950s and worked for two other firms, Joseph A. Aronson Realtors and J.J. Gumberg Co., before forming one under his own name in 1964.

As recently as two years ago, he was still spending time each day in his office on Fort Pitt Boulevard, Downtown, in one of several buildings from the early 1900s that he restored as valuable, attractive office space between the Boulevard of the Allies and the Monongahela River. Preservation of those properties in the section known as First Side became one of his pet projects in the real estate development field.

A fellow developer of properties there, David O'Loughlin, said Mr. Goldsmith's was a warm and spirited voice for promoting that long-neglected area, where numerous historic properties along Fort Pitt Boulevard and nearby risked eventual destruction if not for efforts like theirs. At one point, Mr. Goldsmith owned or co-owned five office buildings leased to business tenants, in addition to serving as a broker for commercial property sales and managing properties for other owners.

"He loved working with people, and that was what drove him," Mr. O'Loughlin said. "That whole cycle of picking out a building, buying a building, the nurturing of it, working with people like the architect and contractors and so on -- Ken loved that whole range of things, right through taking care of the people that occupied the building."

Mr. Goldsmith prized his independence and direct involvement and never wanted his firm to become large. At one point, it had as many as eight employees, and even that was too many, he said.

Rather than being bogged down in meetings with his staff or others, he said, "I'd much rather be out selling properties."

When he was growing up in Squirrel Hill, his family ran department stores known as The Famous in Braddock and McKeesport, which he worked at as a manager in 1948-55 after attending Kenyon College. He never lost his affinity for the Mon Valley, though he never lived there, and he would follow in his father Malcolm's footsteps in later years in heading the board of the Braddock Medical Center.

Mr. Goldsmith also served as president of the Heritage Health Foundation, a community fund created out of the proceeds from UPMC's purchase of Braddock Medical Center. He was an outspoken but ultimately unsuccessful opponent of UPMC's later decision to shut down the medical center in 2010.

"He was a genuine gentleman," said Bob Grom, who was Heritage Health Foundation's executive director.

"His head and heart were always in what was best for Braddock," Mr. Grom said. "Ken understood very clearly what the hospital was to the community. ... [For] someone who worked so long and so hard and had such a long family history, to see all that become a pile of dust, literally, was heart breaking."

Among other volunteer endeavors, Mr. Goldsmith served as president of the East Boroughs and East Valley Area Councils of the Boy Scouts of America, the Forbes Neighborhood Association and the Concordia Club. He was a vice president of the local chapter of the American Cancer Society; a board member of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania and First National Bank of Braddock; and a trustee of Rodef Shalom Congregation and the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

March 21, the day of his death, was also notable for Mr. Goldsmith because it was the date on which he married Lillian 61 years earlier. She became well-known as the proprietor of River House Antiques, a fashionable store in Shadyside she closed last year. The couple frequently took part in fundraising galas for the arts and other causes.

Their son, Frederick Baer Goldsmith of Squirrel Hill, said his father was great at interacting with people at all levels of society but was content to let his wife take the lead on their social calendar and on purchases for their home such as their many antiques. Mr. Goldsmith, though dapper in a bow tie while working, was happy relaxing at home in blue jeans, moccasins and a T-shirt or wool sweater.

He was an avid outdoorsman, leading the family on hikes and horseback-riding at a Wyoming dude ranch.

In addition to his wife and son Frederick, Mr. Goldsmith is survived by two other sons, Kenneth Douglas of Friendship and Malcolm II of San Francisco; a daughter, Mildred Baer Palley of London; and three grandchildren.

No public visitation will be held for Mr. Goldsmith. The family plans to schedule a memorial service at a later date.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255. Robert Zullo contributed.


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