Otis Warren Jr., first Black person to construct an office building in downtown Baltimore, dies

Otis Warren Jr., a self-made businessman who became the first Black person to construct an office building in downtown Baltimore, died Tuesday at Sinai Hospital.

His son, Otis Warren III, said he died of complications from “a health issue that occurred two years ago.”


Mr. Warren was 80 and had homes in the Village of Cross Keys and in Florida.

In 1993, he opened his $38 million, 11-story City Crescent building at Howard and Baltimore streets.

Otis Warren Jr., pictured in 1993, was a real estate broker and president of Otis Warren & Co.

“I had a philosophical and emotional need to make this happen for my community,” he said to The Sun of the successfully completed structure. “Beyond the money, it was a purpose. It was a cause.”

Born in 1942 on West Mulberry Street, Mr. Warren was the youngest of three children. Neither of his parents finished high school, but his father, Otis Warren Sr., owned a nightclub and an ice cream store. His mother, Rose Odessa Warren, was a homemaker.

The elder Mr. Warren collected rents and sometimes purchased property in areas where Black people were allowed, a 1993 Sun story said. He was denied admission to the city’s Realtors association — the same one that would elect his son, Otis Warren Jr., Realtor of the Year in 1976.

As a 12-year-old, Mr. Warren sold the end-of-dayedition of the old News American, called the 10-star, which contained late horse racing results. He competed for a spot at the corner of Poplar Hill and Edmondson avenues among other newsboys to sell papers to people leaving buses.

Daniel Henson, a childhood friend who went on to be Baltimore’s housing commissioner, said: “We both worked that street corner selling newspapers. He was an affable guy, and he was tough. He was smart and was focused on making money. He could understand a complicated business deal.”

Mr. Warren was a 1961 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and the Community College of Baltimore City. To pay for school tuition, he worked as a janitor every other night at the Garrett Building on Redwood Street.

He worked a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. But during breaks, he sat in attorney LeRoy Hoffberger’s chair and thought about what it took to succeed. “The thing I noticed more than anything else was successful guys worked hard,” Mr. Warren said in the 1993 Sun interview.

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He went on to be a real estate broker and president of Otis Warren & Co. He sold both commercial and residential properties and developed the Dickey Hill Forest apartments in West Baltimore.


His son said, “He was a likable personality, and in the 1970s and 1980s, he trained hundreds of Black agents.”

Otis Warren Jr. was a past president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said: “He was really outstanding entrepreneur with expertise in real estate. He was a big supporter of a lot of young politicians, including myself. He helped many young businesspeople get started successfully because he understood their needs. He had been through it himself.”

Mr. Warren served on the Greater Baltimore Committee, Center Club, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, Community College of Baltimore City, Associated Black Charities, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and National Aquarium.

Mr. Warren was also a past president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Survivors include his wife of 33 years, Dr. Sharon Warren, a retired psychiatrist, and a son, Otis “O.T.” Warren III of Baltimore.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 4 at the March Life Tribute Center at 5616 Old Court Road in Randallstown.