Local real estate tycoon, father of 11, dies at 95


Peter DePaul, Sr., was a true rags-to-riches story. Born and raised on Sharpnack Street and later on Forrest Avenue, both in East Mt. Airy, he dropped out of Germantown High School in his freshman year in 1942 and later joined his father's small general contracting firm business, Tony DePaul and Son.

Over the decades, Peter proved to be a relentless workhorse, eventually creating The DePaul Group, one of the Philadelphia area's most successful real estate development companies. Headquartered in Flourtown, the 1,200-employee company built private homes, assisted living facilities, country club buildings and luxury condos and became one of the biggest private employers in the Northwest Philadelphia region. 

DePaul's most impressive creation was the 242-unit Dockside Condominiums, a $75 million complex which rises 16 stories above the Delaware River at 717 S. Columbus Blvd. It includes million-dollar units with oversized balconies, spectacular views of the river, and it has helped to revitalize the city's downtown waterfront.

DePaul, who built his family's home in Wyndmoor, is the father of 11 children, and had 27 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. He died Dec. 2 of an infection at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital at age 95.

“Peter started with nothing,” said Tony DePaul, Peter's cousin, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident, prolific crime novelist and former CEO of three companies. “He suffered the loss of his wife, a child and two grandchildren. All the while, he maintained a steadfast devotion to his family... He once told me, 'Everything I have done, I have done for my family.' That phrase tells you what drove him onward when the odds were dead set against him."

Tony DePaul, who recently wrote a brief memoir about his cousin called “Judge: The Life of Peter 'Judge' DePaul,” described him as “one tough cookie.”

“He carries himself with an aura of inherent integrity, like a judge. His sense of humor and wit make him easy to like and trust,” Tony DePaul wrote. “He has a Rolodex of friends longer than his arm. Friends and business associates exclaim their fondness and trust. He is a good guy who always tries to do the right thing.”

In a typical online tribute, Bill and Nancy Cummings of Southampton wrote in part: “Since our meeting in September, 1963, a few words describe you (Peter): work tough, be tough, get results, never give up and always reach the finish line first. As we worked together, we realized that there is no substitute for hard work.” 

By the 1950s, Tony DePaul and Son had developed from a small general contractor into a highway construction and utility contractor. In the 1960s, the company entered into its first million-dollar contract, which involved the reconstruction of the Spring Garden Street Tunnel and a host of other PennDOT projects, and demonstrated the company’s growing ability.

Peter then took the business and expanded it, creating a number of other enterprises: shopping centers, apartments, commercial office buildings, health care facilities, golf courses and hospitality companies. Eventually, the DePaul Group built and developed more than 3,500 townhomes, twin- and single-family homes in the Philadelphia area, and his properties earned a reputation for being of the highest quality.

Throughout his life, Peter served on numerous boards, including Temple University and Blue Cross. He was the co-founder of Eagle Downs Racing Association, Continental Racing Association and Keystone racetrack, known today as Parx Casino. He also co-founded Madison Bank in 1989, which is now a part of Tompkins Bank.

He was a major benefactor to Thomas Jefferson Hospital, the Philadelphia Convention Center, La Salle College High School, Mount St. Joseph Academy, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy and Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

DePaul had six children with his first wife, Angela Volpe, who died in 1968 from a lung disease. He married Nevis Dragani in 1970, a widow to whom Volpe’s sister had introduced him. He raised five more children with Nevis. He is survived by Nevis (nee Roman) Dragani DePaul, his children – Donna Bartynski, Alison Schmitt, Cindy Saponaro, Susan Ramos, Andrea Naticchione, Lisa Ramos, Donna Williams, Peter DePaul, Jr (deceased), Anthony DePaul, Alfred Dragani and John Dragani – grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Two grandchildren, Nello Naticchione IV and Stephanie Favata, are deceased.

There was a viewing at St. Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill on Dec. 9, followed by Mass. Interment was private. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Peter’s name may be made to the Nello Memorial Committee, 409 Stenton Ave., Flourtown, PA 19031.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com