Melvin J. Berman

Melvin James Berman (14 January 1915 – 20 February 1996), was a prominent land developer in Maryland. He was instrumental in the creation of Columbia, Maryland along with his development partner James Rouse.[1]

Melvin J. Berman
Born(1915-01-14)January 14, 1915
DiedFebruary 20, 1996(1996-02-20) (aged 81)
EmployerHoward Research and Development, Citizens Bank, Berman Enterprises
Known forLand development, co-founding Columbia, Maryland.
Home townLaurel, Maryland, Palm Springs, California
ChildrenDennis Berman
RelativesWolford Berman

In 1932, Melvin J. Berman moved from DeFuniak Springs, Florida near the Alabama border to Howard County.[2] He hitchhiked to Baltimore, working in the dairy business for his uncle. He met his first business partner, a dairy distributor, Arthur V. Robinson soon after. Berman partnered with his younger brother Wolford also. In 1952 the assets of Highland Farm#2 "Olney Acres" became available at auction.[3] In November 1955 Robinson became a member of the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Association Inc.[4] Robinson used the association money to purchase Olney Acres dairy farm in Howard County, Maryland from his partner Berman for $1,000,000.[5] He hired Berman, and used company funds to buy additional property surrounding the farm while providing salaries to each other from the cooperative. Roberts then resold the properties to himself and his family, and resold them again to Aladdin Construction Corporation developer Joseph Martelleni, forming Hammond Village in the process. In 1961 Berman and Robinson also partnered on a second milk plant in New York.[6][7] Robinson did not have to appear in trial for fraud, because he died in a takeoff crash his twin engine aircraft from Baltimore.[8]

In 1954, they built the Ingleside Shopping center, from onsite offices, The Investment Corporation of Maryland purchased and developed the J Frank Gwynn farm in what would eventually become Columbia Maryland.[9][10]

In 1956, Berman started land development, building the Laurel Shopping Center.[11][12][13][14]


In 1958 Berman became a founding member of the shopping center development company, Community Research and Development along with James Rouse, later becoming director of The Rouse Company.[15][16] In 1961, Berman pursued his own Howard County for the company's next development.[17] In 1962, Berman took interest in a 1,032 acre parcel of land assembled by land developer Robert Moxley comprising four farm properties from the Carroll, Kahler, Wix, and his uncle James R. Moxley Sr's families.[18] Close to 15,000 acres were desired to create a parcel large enough for an envisioned 100,000 person development. Rouse's attorney Jack Jones set up a grid system to secretly buy land through dummy corporations to keep costs low. Moxley's firm Security Realty Company (now Security Development Group Inc),[19] negotiated most of the land deals for Jones, becoming his best client.[19][20][21] CRD accumulated 14,178 acres (57.38 km2), 10 percent of Howard County (located between Baltimore and Washington), from 140 separate owners. The $19,122,622 acquisition was funded by Rouse's former employer Connecticut General Life Insurance, at an average price of $1,500 per acre ($0.37/m²). When purchasing started, approval would have fallen on another family member, County Commissioner and land developer Norman E. Moxley. By late 1962, citizens elected an all-Republican three member council. J. Hubert Black, Charles E. Miller, and David W. Force campaigned on a slow-growth ballot, but later approved the Columbia project.[22] In October 1963, the acquisition was revealed to the residents of Howard County, putting to rest rumors about the mysterious purchases. These had included theories that the site was to become a medical research laboratory or a giant compost heap.[23] Ten years later, Councilman Charles E. Miller stated if he could do it over again, he wouldn't have approved Columbia. He felt exploited and felt the subsidized housing would become a problem for the rest of the county.[24]

Berman EnterprisesEdit

Berman founded Berman Enterprises, hiring his nephew Gary in 1972, and son Dennis in 1973.[25]


In 1999 Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, founded in 1944, moved to its current location in Rockville, Maryland and was renamed the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, in honor of Berman.[26] The Berman Academy, as it is now known, started operations at the former Montgomery County Peary High School, abandoned since 1988. In 1996, the school signed a lease for the 20 acres of land, obligating itself to a nine million dollar cleanup, and giving Berman's company the right to re-purchase the land for future development.[27]


  1. ^ "Melvin J Berman". Berman Enterprises. Archived from the original on 28 June 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  2. ^ "It's all about family at Berman Enterprises". Palm Beach gardens and Jupiter Florida Weekly. 14 June 2011.
  3. ^ Lyon County Reporter. 6 November 1952. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Howard County Times. 16 August 2001. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Dairy Heads Buy Farm At $1 Million". The Washington Post. 3 December 1955.
  6. ^ "Big Dairy Plant for Oneida NY". Advance News. 22 October 1961.
  7. ^ Maryland Land Records book 435. p. 439.
  8. ^ "PARISH v. MILK PRODUCERS ASS'N". Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Zoning Change Granted". The Times. 31 March 1965.
  10. ^ "MSA Gwynn Acres". Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Berman Enterprises". Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  12. ^ The Laurel Leader. 15 November 1956. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Arnett, Earl; Brugger, Robert J.; Papenfuse, Edward C. (1999). Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 389. ISBN 0801859808.
  14. ^ "SUPERVISOR OF ASSESSMENTS OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY v. MELVIN J. BERMAN, ET AL. Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. February 8, 1990". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  15. ^ Miami Herald. 9 March 1987. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ The Baltimore Sun. 29 Feb 1996. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Ann Forsyth. Reforming Suburbia: The Planned Communities of Irvine, Columbia. p. 113.
  18. ^ Edward Gunts (19 February 2012). "Columbia Marks 50 Years since Rouse started buying land for town". The Baltimore Sun.
  19. ^ a b Adam Sachs (16 November 1993). "Developer envisions 22 homes on 10 acres of Dasher Homestead Moxley has ties to Columbia's birth". The Baltimore Sun.
  20. ^ Joseph R. Mitchell, David Stebenne. New City Upon a Hill: A History of Columbia, Maryland. p. 57.
  21. ^ Barbara Kellner. Columbia. p. 10.
  22. ^ The Baltimore Sun. 5 December 1962. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Joseph R. Mitchell, David Stebenne. New City Upon a Hill: A History of Columbia, Maryland. p. 56.
  24. ^ Michael J. Clark (19 June 1977). "At youthful age of 10, Columbia is feeling like a grown-up new town". The Baltimore Sun. p. B1.
  25. ^ "Second Generation". Archived from the original on 30 July 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  26. ^[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ "Berman gets its wish Council OKs purchase of Rockville site". Retrieved 25 May 2012.