Morton J. "Morty" Macks, an influential and innovative developer who founded Chesapeake Realty Partners, which grew into the Baltimore metropolitan area's largest family-owned homebuilder, died April 30 at his Delray Beach, Fla., home of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 90.
"He was one of my personal mentors and a man I greatly respected," said James C. Johnson, former president of Loyola Federal Savings & Loan. "Morty Macks was a gentleman and a gentle man, and I think that's something we'd all like to have said about us. He was just a wonderful human being."
"Morty was really, really very smart," said Bob Brown of Bel Air, who retired in 2000 as senior staff vice president of the National Association of Home Builders.
"He was a tough guy, and if you were negotiating with Morty, you had your hands full. You had to be tough in that business," said Mr. Brown, who first got to know Mr. Macks in 1968, when Mr. Brown was executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.
"Whenever Morty was in a room, he was a real presence," said Mr. Brown.
The son of Julius Macks, a traveling sales representative, and Martha Abelson Macks, a homemaker, Morton Joseph Macks was born in Baltimore and raised in a home on Pimlico Road.
After graduating in 1942 from Polytechnic Institute, Mr. Macks earned a bachelor's degree in 1944 in civil engineering from the Johns Hopkins University.
Two days after graduating from Hopkins, Mr. Macks was commissioned an officer in the Navy and served in the Pacific with a Seabees construction battalion.
In the spring of 1945, when he was barely 20 years old, Mr. Macks was the officer in charge of overseeing construction of residential facilities for naval support personnel on Okinawa.
Discharged with the rank of ensign, Mr. Macks returned to Baltimore, where he briefly considered returning to Hopkins to study for a master's degree, when a professor said that he was better off working in industry.
"I wasn't the greatest student that came down the pike and wasn't really interested in pursuing an academic track," Mr. Macks told Andrew Wohlberg, author of "Morton J. Macks: A History of Family, Building & Giving."
"I was more interested in continuing in construction, because that's what the Navy Seabees gave me the opportunity to do," he said.
Mr. Macks borrowed $7,000 from several relatives and began his career as a builder and developer on a warm summer afternoon in 1946 when he stood on the Baltimore County Courthouse steps as an auctioneer sold off lots that had been repossessed for nonpayment of taxes.
"I had never been to a real estate auction before," he told his biographer, and before the auction ended, the young man had purchased four lots. "I knew what price they went for and knew they were finished; they had a street in front and a developed water connection."
What made Mr. Macks an innovative builder in the postwar years was his use of prefabricated structures that came along during World War II, which were produced by Maryland Housing Corp.
Mr. Macks focused his development efforts in the surrounding Baltimore suburbs, including two he named "Suburbia" in Reisterstown and northern Anne Arundel County.
In 1960, he purchased Maryland Housing Corp. and expanded the business, which was located on Southwestern Boulevard. It wasn't long before the prefabricated homes that were assembled by his company were being trucked up and down the East Coast, and by the late 1960s, he was prefabbing and building apartments.
"It was close to a thousand homes a year we were selling to builders, not including what we used ourselves," he told Mr. Wohlberg.
One of Mr. Macks' prefabricated houses was shipped to Russia in 1959 as part of the American National Exhibition in Moscow that featured American products.
It was in this house that Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev engaged in what became known as the Kitchen Debate."
Mr. Macks had to make a decision — take the business public or sell it — and in 1969, he sold it to Olin Corp. and joined the board of Olin.
In addition to residential developments Candlewicke, Worthington Overlook and Sea Pines in Rehoboth Beach, Del., he developed apartment complexes, including Owings Run Apartments, Canterbury Apartments and Timbercroft Townhouse Apartments.
Mr. Macks also constructed shopping centers, including Jumpers Hole, Honeygo Village Center and the Reisterstown Shopping Center.
His business philosophy was simple.
"The emphasis was on quality control — the customer's always right. Even when they're wrong, they're right," he told his biographer. "I used to hold monthly meetings about quality, quality from the time you sold a house or rented an apartment. That's where quality begins. … We built our reputation on that."
"He was a customer of ours for 40 years, our largest outside stockholder and served on our board. He was always easy to deal with. When we shook hands after completing a deal, he didn't expect the terms to be changed, and we felt the same way," said Mr. Johnson. "He was a very low-key man who never forgot where he came from and was not the least bit nouveau riche."
Mr. Macks was also progressive in his views on race during the contentious times of the 1960s.
I often heard him say, 'We're colorblind.' He hired an African-American marketing manager, Floyd Grayson, who Morty later set up in the homebuilding business," said Mr. Brown.
By 1991, Macks Homes, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Realty Partners, was the Baltimore metropolitan area's largest family-owned homebuilder. In 1995, Mr. Macks turned over the business to his son, Lawrence M. Macks, and his son-in-law, Josh E. Fidler.
In addition to his home in Florida, Mr. Macks maintained homes in Pikesville and Rehoboth Beach.
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He was a longtime member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where he headed the committee in the early 1960s that built a main sanctuary and elementary school. He was a founder of Beth Tfiloh Community High School, where he remained a major benefactor.
Other philanthropic interests included serving as campaign chair for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He was a benefactor of the Johns Hopkins University, including its school of engineering, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Lyme Disease Foundation.
"Morty lived essentially the kind of joyous life that people only talk about when the person dies," said Mr. Brown.
Funeral services were held Sunday at Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
In addition to his son, Mr. Macks is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Louise Damsky; two daughters, Martha Macks-Kahn of Guilford and Genine Macks Fidler of Owings Mills; a sister, Selma Kitt of Boca Raton, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.