Summer 2004

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Bornstein Makes Mark on Louisville

Brick by brick, Bornstein by Bornstein, one Speed graduate’s family has made its mark on the Louisville skyline.

Donald Bornstein ’45S is one of four generations of Bornsteins responsible for some of the area’s most notable structures over the past 114 years. Recent additions to Bornstein Building Co.’s portfolio show the breadth of the company’s services. They include the design and construction of the elegant Z’s Salon and Spa on Shelbyville Road and the retro-driven renovation of Broadway Cinemas.

Another project, the company’s new facility for Cunningham’s in downtown Louisville , recreates some of the quirky character of the famous restaurant’s original building—a former ice house that at one time, according to legend, also housed a bordello, saloon and unofficial offtrack betting hall. The 131-year-old building was destroyed by fire in 2001.

Old-time patrons were especially pleased to see that one of the previous structure’s more popular features—private, partitioned-off dining spaces which, rumor has it, were once prostitute cribs—are back in the newversion, too.

That’s the kind of special touch that has made the Bornsteins so popular with clients and helped them buck the odds for family-run businesses. (Statistics reveal that less than 10 percent survive beyond the third generation.)

The Bornstein legacy in Louisville began in 1890 with Donald’s grandfather, Jacob. A Russian immigrant who had settled in Atlanta, he moved on to Louisville to help rebuild the West Main Street business district after it was leveled by one of the nation’s deadliest tornadoes on record. He remained to build some of the city’s most notable historic structures, the Reynolds Building , Cherokee Road Library and the original Jewish Hospital among them.

Jacob’s son, Ale, learned the family business from his father as a teenager and then, after serving in World War I, took over and diversified the company to include construction for government, commercial, industrial and insurance restoration clients. When Donald—Ale’s son—assumed leadership in 1972, he further increased the customer base to include retailers, utility companies, hospitals, schools and colleges. Treat them right and those were the types of clients who would offer a lot of repeat business, he reasoned.

Just as his father did before him, Donald learned every aspect of the family business by working his way up from bricklayer’s apprentice to president. Along the way he also earned a degree in civil engineering at Speed. He found time to play on U of L’s freshman basketball team, serve as president of Sigma Alpha Mu and sit on the university’s infraternity council, too.

“Each year at Speed the classes reduced in size, and when I became a senior there were only 12 in my civil engineering class,” Bornstein recalls of his college days. “This was truly wonderful as we could ask a lot and learn a lot.”

Though his education was interrupted by a stint in the infantry during WWII, Donald managed to obtain his degree in 1945 and then joined the family business full time. Today, at the age of 81, he remains on board as a consultant and still goes in to the office several days a week while his son, James, runs things.

When Donald Bornstein looks back at the many projects he’s overseen, the work for nonprofit organizations stands out in his mind—especially the Bridgehaven building on South First Street and the Jewish Community Center on Dutchman’s Lane. Other favorites include the Hilliard Lyons Center , on Fourth Street at Muhammad Ali Boulevard , and the Bell South headquarters at Sixth and Chestnut.

Through the years, Donald’s talent and work ethic have earned him many kudos. They include Speed’s 2002 Technology Network (TeN) Founder’s Award and the 1986 Achievement in Construction Award, presented by the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers.

So what’s his secret for a long, successful career?

“I told myself when I started full time with the company, I could either hate it or love it. So why not love it? And I did,” he reveals.

And he offers this advice to new Speed graduates—and anyone else who cares to listen.

“You can’t count the hours, you must be dedicated and you must use your sense of humor along with the serious aspects.”

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