German billionaire's Tacoma legacy is TAM's Western art wing
German grocery store magnate and longtime Tacoma-area civic booster Erivan Haub, 85, died March 6 at his ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming.
The news was announced this week by his family company, The Tengelmann Group, and his family.
By any measure, Haub’s life was one of hard work and giving back to his adopted city, Tacoma, and its arts scene.
Haub entered the family-owned business in 1963 and assumed leadership of the Tengelmann Group in 1969, following the death of his uncle.
From 1969 to 2000, Haub was the sole managing partner of the company.
He was able to turn the family business from primarily a German grocer into one of the world’s largest international retailers with its various retail divisions.
The Tengelmann Group’s list of holdings included the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P.
According to the company, in 2000 he transferred operational responsibility to his sons and became chairman of the corporate advisory board. He retired at age 80.
In 2004, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his entrepreneurial work.
His path from Germany to Tacoma left a lasting legacy for the city, its museum and its skyline.
In the mid-1950s, Haub visited friends on Fox Island. On his return to Germany, he touted the area’s natural beauty.
“My father said, ‘I have to show you one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever seen in my life, the Pacific Northwest,’ ” his son Christian Haub told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds in 2015.
Erivan and his wife, Helga, married in 1958. When the couple returned to the area, Helga Haub said the area reminded her of Germany’s Black Forest.
Because post-World War II Germany was not the most stable location to raise a family, Christian Haub said, they moved here and had three sons, all of whom have dual citizenship
Haub’s waterfront home in Arletta, west of Gig Harbor, became a place where he and his wife enjoyed summer getaways.
In Tacoma, the Haub family was known as key supporters in the redevelopment of downtown Tacoma, supporting the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, the Museum of Glass and LeMay-America’s Car Museum.
The family owns one of the largest contiguous pieces of undeveloped commercial property in Tacoma, dubbed the “Superblock.” The roughly four-acre site at Pacific Avenue and South 14th Street is currently an assemblage of parking lots.
EDB President Bruce Kendall once told a gathering of developers: “There is no conversation you can have in the South Sound without talking about the Haub site.”
For more than a decade, the site was often the first to come to mind during discussions about luring a large office tenant to the area. The Superblock was the jewel in the crown of the area’s proposal to draw Amazon’s second headquarters to the South Sound, public records show.
The family trust also owns the Columbia Bank Center at 1301 A St.
Haub built Columbia Bank’s headquarters at South 13th and A streets in 2001.
Local commercial real estate agent Mike Hickey said he first met Haub in the late 1990s, right around when his firm Neil Walter Company was founded.
“At first it was a really intimidating experience to meet someone of such prominence,” Hickey told The News Tribune on Tuesday. “I came to realize he was a very nice person.”
Haub was a rare mix of business acumen and heart, Hickey said, one who cared deeply for the community and wanted everyone to feel they had been treated fairly in business dealings with him.
Case in point: A company in the Columbia Bank Center wanted to continue to lease its space there, and had negotiated a tentative deal with Haub during the economic downturn. Russell Investments had just left Tacoma, and office space was plentiful. The company, which Hickey didn’t name, was using Haub’s offer as leverage to look for an even better deal. In the meantime the offer expired.
Then State Farm offered to lease the entire Columbia Bank Center for a higher rate.
“What the Haub family did is they honored their word,” Hickey said. “It’s very rare. (Haub) was entirely consistent in his manner how he treated people. That made you want to work as hard as you could for the guy.”
Another piece of property, this one in Gig Harbor on Harborview Drive across from the Tides Tavern, entered the spotlight last spring when the Ben B. Cheney Foundation began work with the previous city council on a development agreement for construction of 35 dwelling units in 10 townhouse-style structures on the upland triangular side of the property and three single-family dwellings on the waterfront.
The second waterfront site would be conveyed as a gift for public use.
The foundation had partnered with Hickey and his firm to develop the project. The Haub family owns the site.
While some residents supported the development agreement, a majority of those who showed up at a public meeting in March 2017 were against the cutting of trees.
Earlier this month, the Gig Harbor City Council voted to purchase the property from the Haub family for $2.5 million to keep it as a preserved wooded area.
Along with his business dealings, art was another of his passions.
In 2012 the family donated around 300 works of Western American art from its personal collection to the Tacoma Art Museum, paying for a new wing for the display through a $20 million gift.
The museum calls the collection “unrivaled in its scope,” spanning from 1790 to modern times. The museum notes on its website that is the “only major museum collection of Western American art in the Northwest region.”
“I’m happy with it — very happy with it,” Haub said of the new wing at the time. “It’s very well done.”
In a statement Tuesday to The News Tribune, TAM Executive Director David Setford said Haub “will be remembered as a singularly important person in the history of Tacoma Art Museum.
“His gift transformed our museum into a national destination. The Haub family gift of the Haub Family Collection and the Haub Family Galleries reflects Erivan’s deep connection to Tacoma. The collection will stand as a legacy of his respect for the people and the beauty of the American West.”
“Being rich is not what’s in your bank account,” Haub told The News Tribune in 1994. “The one who is truly rich is the one who is rich at heart.”
A few days before his passing, he marked his 60th anniversary with his wife, according to the Tengelmann Group’s announcement.
Haub is survived by his wife, Helga; his son Karl-Erivan and his wife Katrin with their children, Viktoria and Erivan; his son Georg with his children, Robert, Alexander and Sarina; and his son Christian and his wife Liliane with their children, Marie-Liliane, Maximilian, Anna-Sophia and Constantin.
News Tribune archives contributed to this report.