In 1933 Tom Moyer dropped out of the ninth grade to pursue his dream of becoming a boxer. Boxing was one of the family businesses; his father, Harry Moyer, had been a boxer, his older brother (also named Harry) boxed, his younger brother Larry would box for a while, and two nephews then unborn, Denny Moyer and Phil Moyer, would become nationally famous as boxers. Boxing had an element of theater to it; Tom's father Harry acquired the nickname "Silk Hat Harry" by showing up for matches wearing a silk hat and daring his opponent to knock it off. When his opponent punched at his silk hat, Harry Moyer would slide under and aim for the chin.
By 1940 "Tommy" Moyer was the second-best amateur welterweight boxer in the United States, ranking behind only Sugar Ray Robinson. He became the top-ranked amateur when Robinson turned pro. Later turning professional himself, he won 22 professional bouts, losing none.
He left boxing behind to work in the other Moyer family business, operating movie houses. Years before, his father had become a projectionist, and then rented a theatre to operate with the help of his wife and children. In 1964 a dispute about whether to build more theatres split the family, and Tom Moyer (no longer called "Tommy") started in business for himself. He quickly took advantage of two trends: the suburbs were growing, and people in other cities were building multiplex theatres. He built the Eastgate Theatre (the first multiscreen theatre in the area), then the Southgate and the Westgate. And he kept on building; by the time he sold the business twenty-five years later, his chain had become the 10th-largest theatre chain in the United States and the largest held privately by one family.
When he sold in 1989 at the age of 70, he started a third career as a real estate developer. He had built a lot of theatres, but no other large projects. He started with a bang, participating in developing the 1000 Broadway Building in downtown Portland. (People who don't know its name call it the "Ban Roll-On Building" after the shape of the silvery mechanical shelter on the roof. It's the city's 14th-tallest tower.) When his partner couldn't make the building pay, he took it over and turned it around. Then in 1999 he built the Fox Tower, the fifth-tallest tower in Portland, and in 2009 broke ground on the Park Avenue West Tower, soon to be Portland's 4th-tallest building.
An unassuming man, he would casually say that he "lived above the shop," in the manner of a storekeeper. "Above the shop" meant an apartment on the top floor of the Fox Tower, from where he could see most of the city in which he'd made his fortune, and where he died on November 28 at the age of 95, having lived long enough to see the first of the glass and wall panels being attached to his latest tower.
Mr. Moyer died two weeks too soon to read about the Portland Development Commission's decision to grant a $27 million subsidy to the Zidell family to redevelop the Zidells' industrial land near the Ross Island Bridge with 1.5 million square feet of new buildings. That's a lot of space -- it's about 35 acres of floor area, to be laid out and financed with advice from the wisest and best-educated of our local consultants -- and the PDC members may be forgiven for believing that they've committed $27 million of tax money wisely. In the midst of their self-congratulations the commissioners might reflect that Tom Moyer built 1.5 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space in downtown Portland, and achieved his brand of the American dream, with a government subsidy that was $27 million less than the Zidell project, that is to say, zero.