Real Estate Developer Leonard Mellman Dies at 96

Leonard Mellman in front of a Settlement Music School performance space bearing his name. From left: Susan Dupont, Charlyn Weitz, Irv Mellman, Leah Bowes, Leonard Mellman and Rhoda Brown | Courtesy of Settlement Music School

Real estate manager and developer Leonard Mellman died on July 11 after suffering complications from an earlier fall. He was 96.

A Philadelphia native, Mellman was a World War II veteran, an often-awarded civic contributor and a lifelong supporter of the Settlement Music School, where he began taking lessons as a teenager.

“Settlement is like another home to me,” Mellman told the Jewish Exponent in 2018.

Mellman served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Europe from 1943-1946. Upon his return, Mellman enrolled in Temple University, graduating with an English degree. He volunteered for the school’s College of Liberal Arts and, in 1985, received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

After a few years running his father’s general merchandise business, Mellman launched his own real estate development company, L. Mellman Co. in Center City. Over the course of his career, he would start Mellman Investments, partner with Joe Blume in the Mellman/Blume Partnership, join his husband Matthew J. Cunniff in the Cunniff Mellman Co., work as a general partner in Diamond Acres and serve as the president of Van Pelt Court Ltd.

Cunniff and Mellman met at a dinner party in 1965. Dinner discussion was about the “astrological prognostications of sun signs,” Cunniff said, a topic Mellman wasn’t particularly interested in.

Nevertheless, they got to talking and laughing, and made plans after dinner to see each other again. When Cunniff was evicted from his South Street apartment, he asked Mellman if he might stay with him for a few days.

“I moved in, and never did move out,” Cunniff said. They were finally wed in 2014.

Cunniff said that people were drawn to Mellman, a quiet type. They would tell him strangely intimate things, tidbits that Mellman would repeat to Cunniff’s surprise on the way home from a party. It wasn’t, however, mere gossip.

“He was naturally kind. His basic response was kindness and concern,” Cunniff said.

Mellman’s kindness was well-known within the halls of Settlement, which honored him as a distinguished alumnus in 2018. Chief Advancement Officer Amelia Schmertz recalled how quickly Mellman welcomed her into the community, and how eager he was to assist.

“Whenever he heard about an opportunity for the school, or a need for the school, he would say, ‘How can I help?’” Schmertz said.

Mellman also sat on the board of directors of the Singing City Choir and the Philadelphia Opera Guild.

After the oldest Mellman sibling, Bill Mellman, passed away, Leonard Mellman became the family patriarch, according to his sister, Leah Bowes. He led the family seders, and sang “Chad Gadya” until he was out of breath.

“He was always there when you needed him,” said Rhoda Brown, another sister.

According to Brown, Mellman’s last words were: “Give my love to everyone.”

Besides his spouse, Mellman is survived by three sisters, two brothers, three nieces and two nephews.


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