As a teenage fledgling developer after World War II, Jerry Spiegel worried about being taken seriously.
"When he started his career in real estate, he was building houses in Hicksville for returning vets when Levitt was building houses in Levittown," Spiegel's son-in-law, Arthur Sanders recalled of the Kings Point resident who died Tuesday at age 84 at North Shore University Hospital after a long illness.
"He was a young guy and he was afraid that the customers wouldn't trust a young guy to build them a house, so we had his mother sit at the front desk and then they would finally meet him."
Credibility wasn't an issue for very long for Spiegel, who went on to build Long Island's first indoor shopping center, the Nassau Farmers Market on Route 107 in Bethpage, and become one of Nassau County's biggest commercial and industrial developers. His firm, Spiegel Associates, now controls more than 4 million square feet of commercial and industrial space in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
He and his wife of 55 years, Emily, who died last year, also became major art collectors and philanthropists supporting universities, museums and hospitals.
Spiegel's suburban homes, unlike Levitt's, had a radical feature: basements. By the early 1970s, he had diversified into the industrial, retail and office market. "He never built too large because his philosophy was always to have a lot of eggs in a lot of baskets," said Sanders, who went to work for Spiegel in 1983 and was president of the company from 1985 to 1999.
The one project that did stand out was the farmers market, which included amenities including a carousel.
Developer Wilbur Breslin, a longtime friend and tennis partner, called Spiegel "one of the smartest real estate men in the county, and one of the nicest."
Through the Jerry and Emily Spiegel Family Foundation, the couple funded charitable projects all over Long Island and beyond. Included was renovation of The Jerry and Emily Spiegel Theater at Hofstra University, a laboratory for movement disorders at the Feinstein Institute at North Shore University Hospital and a laboratory for stem cell research at Columbia University.
He amassed an extensive collection of contemporary art.
"He and my mother were listed among the top 200 collectors for years in publications like Arts News and Art & Antiques for helping artists' careers and owning some of the great works representing the modern masters of our time," said his daughter, Pamela Sanders of Greenwich, Conn.
Agnes Gund, former board president of the Museum of Modern Art, said "they were so wonderful to MoMA and contemporary artists and passionate about supporting tennis." Spiegel was a major supporter of the U.S. Open senior doubles program for many years.
Besides Sanders, Spiegel is survived by daughter Lise Wilks of Manhattan and six grandchildren.
A funeral service will be Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Temple Beth El in Great Neck followed by private burial. The family will observe shiva at 10 Broadlawn Ave. in Kings Point at 2:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday from 4:30-7:30 p.m.