Column: Celebrating Malkin’s Contributions on his Birthday
By Anne W. Semmes
If ever there was a day to celebrate a man who has made such a positive imprint on the town of Greenwich, it is today, Jan. 14, the 83rd birthday of Peter L. Malkin.
A new oral history at Greenwich Library’s Oral History Project gives the full measure of Peter’s contributions to our town. We all know his towering presence (literally and figuratively!) in the world of real estate, which counts that Manhattan icon, the Empire State Building—but get ready for a tour of what his entrepreneuring and generous hand has fashioned in the half century he has lived in our midst, with wife Isabel and family.
Start at the top of Greenwich Avenue, and note as you walk the classy historic replica lighting stanchions with their energy efficient LED lights, and those seasonal and overflowing hanging baskets. Peter is prompt to credit the public-private partnerships that brought such improvements. But always his life partner, Isabel, has been there as influencer, as he recently confirmed: “Pillow talk has an influence.”
It was Isabel driving her husband to the train station and pointing out the roadside litter that led to Peter’s creating Greenwich Green & Clean, which sees to the plantings, with the Malkins contributing “installation and watering.” Note that public-private partnership.
On your walk, notice those elegant green news vending machines and litter receptacles up and down The Avenue. Peter is particularly proud of this contribution; he notes that novelist Norb Vonnegut introduces Greenwich by describing the “harmonious and attractive” lighting and vending machines that befit a town of “hedge fund billionaires.”
Pause as you pass the now renovated Greenwich Commons, thanks to the Malkins and the Dalios, with the now convenient path that takes you through Havemeyer Park to Town Hall.
And next door to Greenwich Commons, Peter very nearly would have had the Greenwich Historical Art Center, converting the Havemeyer building with its theater, raising $15 million toward the cost of $25 million. Alas, the private money was returned—the motivation was lacking from the town and occupying Board of Education.
Across the street, Peter did save the old Greenwich Post Office, adding the historic building to the Malkin real estate portfolio, then presiding over its restoration in partnership with its renter, RH Greenwich (Restoration Hardware), with a resulting Presidential Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Just across the way on Arch Street if its April 29, Arbor Day, the annual tree party takes place at McArdle’s where money is raised for the Greenwich Tree Conservancy to celebrate its ten-year anniversary, thanks to its co-founding by Peter in 2007. As its long-standing president, Peter counts 2,500 trees planted thus far on town streets, parks, and school grounds.
“Another example of private and public,” Peter says in his oral history, is his uncovering $42,000 in the town budget for planting trees not being realized due to insufficient planting help. “So,” narrates Peter, “we finally worked out a deal where the town budget would be used to buy trees and the Conservancy would do all the planting.”
Peter’s fight to save the trees alongside the Merritt Parkway has been less successful. For longer years than his work with the Tree Conservancy, he has presided as chair of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy. The Conservancy recently won an award from the Connecticut Trust for Preservation for having so attractively preserved the service areas of the Merritt. But the Parkway under Peter’s watch has suffered Governor Malloy’s decision to clear-cut all trees within 30 feet of the roadway, including “all the shrubs, the bushes, the historic plantings,” which are slated to be restored (but this has not yet accomplished).
There are other dreams Peter has not fulfilled for our town. Soon after creating Greenwich Clean & Clean in 1986, Peter created Greenwich Adopt-a-Road with friend Robert Haack, wherein a small truck would traverse the main arteries of the town with men picking up litter along the roadsides. The hope was for a public-private partnership: “We would contribute part of the cost, and the town could have this service.”
But Peter, now turning a sturdy 83, is not easily discouraged. He readily took on chairing the capital campaign for the “reimagining” of the campus of the Greenwich Historical Society. Standing before a full house at the Retired Men’s Association’s (RMA) recent meeting, he announced that of $13.5 needed for the “reimagining” $11 million had been raised, and that they were near their goal a year ahead of schedule. (Especially appealing to Peter was that “We’re 20 percent below budget on the parking area.”)
Whether or not it was pillow talk with Isabel—the longest serving board member of the Historical Society—that had recruited Malkin as campaign chief, he has proved his worth once again.
At Peter’s talk before the RMA, he stopped to note the arrival of former First Selectman Rebecca Breed. Rebecca figures largely in his life. As Isabel’s classmate at Rosemary Hall in Greenwich, Rebecca, with husband William Breed III, would convince Isabel and Peter to move to Greenwich.