Sylvan Pools founder Herman Silverman passed away on May 31 at his home in Middletown, Pa.
The pioneering entrepreneur, philanthropist and author was 97.
“Herman was a true American success story,” said Mark Koide, CEO of Anthony & Sylvan Pools, in a company statement. “He lost his father at a young age, lived through the Depression, served in the military and started a thriving business. Seventy-one years later, this company still lives by his core value: If the brand stands for quality, everything else will be simple. We will all remember Herman fondly.”
As founder of Sylvan Pools in the Philadelphia area in 1946, Silverman blazed a trail. Over the years, he also became a community leader.
Born in Camden, N.J., on Jan. 4, 1920, Silverman grew up in West Philadelphia. He obtained a degree in landscape management from Delaware Valley University, then known as National Farm School.
He became a landscape architect with a customer list that included theatrical luminaries such as Oscar Hammerstein and Pearl Buck. Building pools was a natural outgrowth, as he explained to PSN in 1999:
“I was in the landscape business, and I had a lot of people who wanted swimming pools,” he said. “That’s easy — you go where the market is. ... All those theatrical people wanted pools so I was the guy who did it.”
This occurred before shotcrete became an option for construction. As the pool industry sought a reliable, economical and flexible method, Silverman brought hand-packed concrete to his region. Also called dry packing, this method freed contractors from the constraints posed by straight forms used for poured concrete. By dumping concrete on the floor and building it up the walls, they could form radiuses in the coves and on the perimeter.
Silverman also said his company invented the sand filter.
A year after he started Sylvan, Anthony Pools was established in Southern California. Each firm grew beyond their respective coasts until 1996, when Sylvan parent company General Aquatics purchased Anthony Pools and combined the two.
Now based in Mayfield Village, Ohio, Anthony & Sylvan serves 22 metro areas in 16 states, with 40 sales/design centers.
Silverman’s contributions to the pool industry and his community were extensive, as Mike Esmond will attest. An employee at Sylvan Pools in the 1960s, he remembers Silverman well.
“He struck the word ‘no’ from his vocabulary,” said Esmond, now owner of Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas in Florida. “I went to work for him right out of the Army, and in those 10 years we built pools around the United States and the world, including in Iraq and Iran.”
But Silverman’s impact went beyond his business achievements, Esmond said. “One of the things he’ll be remembered for is his nature: He was a perfect gentleman who rubbed off on everybody” he said. After a pause, he added, “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now if it weren’t for him.”
Silverman left his pool company upon selling it in 1969, leading to a nearly 50-year second career. He formed Silverman Family Partnerships, a successful real estate firm he started in Bucks County, Pa. Indeed, he remained active in real estate well into his 90s.
He also turned his tireless energy to other interests — and there were many. Community involvements included more than 20 years’ membership in the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, a leading provider of capital for affordable housing. He also co-founded the Doylestown Hospital Heart Institute, and worked with the Doylestown Historical Society and the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.
His passion for art led him to join the board of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and to chair the Bucks County Council of Arts. He even opened his own gallery in 2011 — the Silverman Gallery of Bucks County Impressionistic Art, featuring local artists’ works.
Silverman was a close friend of author James Michener for decades, and played an instrumental role in establishing the Michener Art Museum. “Herman had remarkable vision and a deep, longstanding commitment to making art publicly accessible,” said Louis Della Penna, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, to the BucksLocalNews.com.
It is said that Silverman became a writer himself after years of being asked, “What is James Michener really like?” His book, Michener and Me, came out in 1999. Then in 2015, Silverman published Memories from a Life Well Lived, in which he chronicled his own life story.
Just two years ago, Silverman received an honorary doctorate from Delaware Valley University.
Silverman is survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Serkin, as well as four daughters with his first wife, Ann Arbeter, who preceded him in death. He also had seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.