James Rouse

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James Wilson Rouse (April 26, 1914 - April 9, 1996), founder of The Rouse Company, was a pioneering American real estate developer, urban planner, civic activist, and later, free enterprise-based philanthropist. He is the maternal grandfather of actor Edward Norton.


Youth, education, early career

Jim Rouse was born in Easton, Maryland, the son of Lydia (née Robinson) and Willard Goldsmith Rouse, a canned-foods broker. His father, a lawyer trained at Johns Hopkins University, once ran as the state's attorney for Harford County. When he lost, the Rouse family moved from Bel Air, Maryland to Easton.[1][2] Rouse grew up in Easton (then population: 5,000) on a well-to-do street on the edge of town. He was taught at home by his mother until second grade, when he was transferred to a public school (which found him to be well prepared enough to skip a grade). At the age of 16, in his senior year of high school, Rouse faced significant life changes: he lost his father and mother to illness, and childhood home on Brooklett's Avenue to bank foreclosure. Rouse was encouraged by his siblings to improve his chances for college admission by doing a year of preparatory school at the private Tome School in Port Deposit, Maryland.

Facing money problems and unable to continue at the Tome School, the Rouse family sought a way for him to attend college by appealing to his oldest sister, who had married a Navy officer stationed in Hawaii. Rouse declared himself his sister's dependent and, with Navy connections now secured, was thereby able to attend the University of Hawaii at a greatly reduced cost. Despite the exotic lure of the islands, Rouse missed Maryland. Again, the Rouse family found a scholarship for Jim at the University of Virginia. He declared his major as political science and waited tables at a local boarding house. Not being able to cover the gap between his scholarship and his remaining expenses, he proposed leaving Charlottesville and moving to Baltimore to try and make it on his own.

In 1933, Rouse arrived in Baltimore in search of opportunity. He was fortunate to find a job parking cars at the St. Paul Garage. He later remarked that he got the job even though he could not drive. He convinced his foreman to teach him rather than fire him. Although he had only two years of undergraduate college on his transcript, in the 1930s that was enough to qualify for law school. He borrowed money and attended classes three nights at the University of Maryland law school while working at the garage over 100 hours a week.

After graduating in 1937 he worked for the Federal Housing Administration and in 1939 he was a partner with Hunter Moss at a mortgage banking firm called the Moss-Rouse Company, which would eventually become the Rouse Company.

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