Mendel Friedman, a builder who helped convert downtown Baltimore's 19th-century garment manufacturing buildings into loft apartments, died of a heart attack Monday at Northwest Hospital Center. The Mount Washington resident was 86.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Reservoir Hill on Lake Drive, he grew up in a family where Yiddish was the primary language. His father, Hyman Friedman, was a traveling salesman in the wholesale tobacco and candy trade, and his son accompanied him to watch him sell pipes, paper goods and candies. His mother's family included some of the founders of the Pioneer Cloak Co., a coat-making business.
After graduating from City College in 1943, he attended Pennsylvania State University. He attempted to enlist in military service but was rejected because of a punctured eardrum.
He joined the Jolly Co. in the 1950s. He soon bought the business from owner Victor Frenkil, whose niece Mr. Friedman had married, and shifted the company to commercial and industrial work.
"The Jolly Co. became a formidable force in the world of general business contracting during the 1970s and 1980s," said his son, attorney John L. Friedman of Owings Mills.
Mr. Friedman renovated the Equitable, Muncie and One South Calvert buildings in downtown Baltimore and built an entrance facility at the Sea Girt Marine Terminal.
In the 1970s, as Baltimore gained national attention for its preservation of older buildings, Mr. Friedman formed a partnership with a Boston developer to renovate the former Heiser, Friedenwald and Rosenfeld buildings on South Paca Street. They made the former industrial lofts into apartments in the west side.
"Mendel enjoyed taking on some risk and the exposure he got from his work at the lofts," said Mark Wasserman, a University of Maryland Medical System senior vice president. "He brought a certain passion for the city. He was an activist who liked taking an interventional role in rebuilding Baltimore."
He went on to renovate the Greenhouse apartments and was co-developer of the downtown Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel. He also worked on an expansion of Sabatino's, Chart House and Fuddrucker's restaurants.
Among his many other projects were buildings for the National Federation for the Blind, Jos. A. Bank clothiers and the apartment conversion of former city public schools, including the old Southern High School on Warren Avenue in Federal Hill.
Mr. Friedman served on the boards of the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, the Deafness Research Foundation, the Baltimore chapter of the American Technion Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the New York Road Runners Club. He was a trustee of National Jewish Health in Denver, where a room in its pediatric unit was recently named in his honor.
"His heart was made of gold," said Lainy LeBow-Sachs, a longtime friend. "He had a very good attitude about life and was a renaissance man."
"My father's biggest passion was music," his son said. "He didn't just love opera; he was obsessed with the music, the emotion and the drama. He memorized entire operas by the score. He listened to them constantly. He sang his whole life and took singing lessons."
Mr. Friedman had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera in New York for more than 20 years, and would drive up for a matinee and home again in the same day. "He spent more time in the car than at the opera," his son said. "He loved traveling to go to the opera with his granddaughters in New York."
He was a fervent supporter of the Baltimore Opera. He sang at family gatherings.
"He was extremely inclusive socially," said a Mount Washington neighbor, Azam Khan. "He was a fearless man. If he believed in something, nothing would stop him from standing up and speaking. He held strong convictions and would not bear a grudge. You always knew where you stood with Mendel."
He collected wines and was an enthusiastic marathon runner. He competed in more than 20 marathons, including those in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Maryland.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.
In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Roberta Weinstein of Reisterstown; a brother, Leonard Friedman of Hollywood, Fla.; a sister, Paula Brooks of West Palm Beach, Fla.; his longtime companion, Mary Aiello of Baltimore; and eight grandchildren. His daughter, Dr. Nancy Friedman Grassian, died in 2004. His marriages to the former Dorothy Rovner and Phyllis Lev ended in divorce.