January 12, 1918, Baltimore, Maryland Education:
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ’35
M.I.T. ’39 (Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society) Service:
Non-military, high-priority defense work as experimental flight test engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1939-1946 Career, Present and Past:
Sidney Silber, at 93, is still fully engaged in his art and horticulture, two of three passionate, long-running avocations. (Racing sailboats in Annapolis is the third, from which he now takes leave.) All have paralleled his three careers as engineer, bakery president and commercial real estate developer.Silber pursues drawing and painting with devotion — he drew well as a child and honed the skill in mechanical drawing courses at Poly, M.I.T., and at Boeing where he did flight analysis. There he flew on 50 test flights, including those of the B-17 and the first pressurized military airplane, the B-29, which was designed to carry the atom bomb.
After the death of his father and brother, Silber returned to Baltimore in 1946. Using engineering and increasing real estate acumen, he expanded the now-legendary family business, Silber Bakeries, to 25 shops. After leaving the business in 1962, he founded Commercial and Industrial Realty Corporation and for 27 years developed residential, commercial and industrial properties.
The proceeds from the sales of those properties created the Jean and Sidney Silber Foundation. Today cultural and educational institutions, as well as Baltimore non-profits focused on education and poverty, occupy much of his interest, philanthropy and time.
So does horticulture. “We had no garden on Monroe Street,” he says of the home where he and seven siblings grew up above the bakery. In 1959 he and his wife Jean combined energy, intellect, artistic and engineering talent to begin a six-acre masterpiece in Lutherville. Fifty-two years later it is considered one the finest gardens in Maryland and the U.S.
While he officially retired in 1990, Silber never stopped working. In khaki pants and oxford cloth shirt, he is found early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with a folding pruning saw and clippers, tending his “living work of art” that draws visitors on private tours from all over the country to see the garden and hear its botanically expert owners lecture.
Among many sculptures in the garden are several of his own, all bronze. (His sculpture is also in the collections of M.I.T. and Goucher College.) Besides collecting art, his current passion is portrait painting. Many line the walls of his studio off the garden.
Key to longevity of engagement: “Shall I say, a young wife?” he laughs. “Jeannie keeps me going…. I think you should always be a student,” says the man, just back from a painting class, who studied law at Boeing, real estate and finance in the bakery business and art, horticulture and history for as long as he can remember. “Physical activity is important too.”
Current challenge: In the art: “Drawing it well, mixing the colors right… I draw. I paint. My eyesight is good, but I still can’t see what I’m supposed to see.” In the garden: “What to do with the garden in the future.” In philanthropy: “How to make the decisions every year.”