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Stanley E. Sugarman, real estate firm owner who dealt with a segregated Baltimore in the 1950s, dies

Stanley E. Sugarman was president of the Property Owners Association.
Stanley E. Sugarman was president of the Property Owners Association.

Stanley E. Sugarman, a landlord and real estate business owner who helped African Americans buy their first homes, died of cancer May 7 at his Stevenson home. He was 94.

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, he was the son of Morris Sugarman, a kosher butcher and Lithuanian immigrant, and his wife, Sadie Springer. He attended Massachusetts State University and entered the world of business while a teenager. He ran his own paper route and hired others to work for him.

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He served in the Navy as an ensign aboard the USS Wisconsin at the end of World War II.

He earned a degree at Brown University after his military service.

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Mr. Sugarman moved to Washington, D.C., and taught science at John Philip Sousa Junior High School. At a social mixer, he met his future wife, Ethyl Binder, a Baltimorean.

After their marriage they settled in Baltimore.

“My father, who attended a racially mixed high school in Massachusetts, was appalled by Baltimore’s segregation and discrimination," said his daughter, Dr. Kate Sugarman, a Potomac resident. “He was forever moved and disturbed by his observations that the African Americans on his ship in the war were never allowed career advancement,” his daughter said.

He was also a keen observer of conditions in Baltimore in the 1950s.

“As he entered the world of real estate in Baltimore, he was further disturbed by the fact that African American soldiers who had returned from fighting in the Korean War were being denied housing,” his daughter said.

He and his partner, Gerald Cornes, ran and operated Homewood Realty for many decades.

“They provided high-quality and affordable housing to countless low-income people in Baltimore,” his daughter said.

Mr. Sugarman was twice president of the Property Owners Association and taught landlords about the principles of providing quality property management, his daughter said. He also advised urban studies students and professors, Baltimore City Council members and Baltimore City housing officials.

“He had profound insight and experience in providing affordable and well-maintained properties,” she said.

Mr. Sugarman later befriended Antero Pietila, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote the 2010 book “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.”

“Stanley joined a corps of real estate operators collectively nicknamed blockbusters who bought from fleeing whites and resold or rented to blacks,” said Mr. Pietila. “He initially worked for Milton Kirshner, a real estate broker who ordered him to find listings outside the center city, defined by Fulton Avenue and Broadway.

“A long tradition of legal or customary discrimination went back to the city’s pioneering 1910 residential segregation ordinance and subsequent redlining. Major Howard Street department stores catered to whites only; so did restaurants, hotels and theaters. When Baltimore ordered its public schools desegregated in the autumn of 1954, racial fears swept through many neighborhoods,” said Mr. Pietila.

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He also said that Mr. Sugarman found a niche among African American home hunters, often military veterans, who had steady jobs at Bethlehem Steel and other industries.

“The average income was $7,500 a year. If I could deliver a house for them for about $125 a month, I would have a huge market that was underserved,” Mr. Sugarman said in a memoir.

He had two real estate firms, Homewood Realty and Sugarcorn Realty and managed a portfolio of some 500 rental units. His office was at 2025 Maryland Ave. in the Old Goucher neighborhood.

“With an inventory that big, he became a sought-after resource for urban scholars trying to understand the complexities of the housing market,” said Mr. Pietila.

“He opened his books; he was exceptional,” said William Grigsby, a University of Pennsylvania emeritus professor, who used the information for his book “Urban Housing Policy.” They became lifelong friends in the 1960s.

Mr. Sugarman was mentioned in a 1972 book about Baltimore, “Housing Investment in the Inner City: The Dynamics of Decline,” by Michael A. Stegman.

“He shared documents and took me on tours around the city, including the Poplar Grove area of West Baltimore, offering play-by-play commentary on how the various blocks changed racially,” Mr. Pietila said, adding that Mr. Sugarman also discussed the difficulties black home buyers faced in obtaining financing.

“You have to remember that the typical black applicant was denied access to credit at Hutzler’s and Hochschild’s and major department stores," Mr. Pietila said, adding that if Mr. Sugarman wanted a credit reference, he sought it from jewelry and furniture stores specializing in installment sales.

Mr. Sugarman, in his role as a Property Owners Association official, spoke at the group’s workshops for owners and managers of rental units.

M. Jay Brodie, the former city housing commissioner who was also a Washington, D.C., redevelopment official, said, “He was a good person, someone who represented the Property Owners Association very well, without being defensive.”

Mr. Pietila said that Mr. Sugarman faced challenges during his final years in the business. He had aging rowhouses with lead paint contamination.

“He dreaded going to his office knowing another suit claiming damages would likely arrive,” Mr. Pietila said.

“Stanley’s personality was somewhat reserved, but he was a jolly man. He had his own sense of humor and was able to deal with all sorts of people," Mr. Pietila said.

Mr. Sugarman was an avid cyclist and a member of the Baltimore Cycle Club. He liked physical activity and learning.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his partner, Phyllis Posner of Pikesville, and five grandchildren. His wife of 56 years died in 2007. A daughter, Fran Sugarman, died in 2011.

Funeral services were private.

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