Jerry Summers: Moses Lebovitz – Co-Founder Of CBL

Like many children of Russian immigrants who settled in Chattanooga, Moses Lebovitz realized the American Dream of rising from poverty to substantial wealth.

“Mr. Mose” was born in Chattanooga in 1905 and died June 27, 1991 at the age of 86.

He was a graduate of Chattanooga High School on 3rd Street and then studied business and finance at the University of Chattanooga.

Subsequent to that period he served his country in the United States Army.

His first entrepreneurial success came in the movie theater industry when he became a partner in Independent Theaters which owned and operated many properties in the Tri-State region and the South.

Locally his company operated the State/Martin Theater downtown, The Brainerd Theater, and several area drive-in theaters.

Recognizing the trend towards shopping malls and the increasing competition with television that was adversely affecting the movie theater business, he and his son, Charles B. Lebovitz, and Jay Solomon founded Independent Enterprises in 1961.

The Brainerd Theater was sold to a local night club operator, Billy Hull, who had also purchased the Brainerd Bootery, from former Hamilton County Sheriff and city of Chattanooga Fire and Police Commissioner James B. “Bookie” Turner and had created an English styled pub, “The Lion’s Den”.

Hull immediately knocked a hole in the wall separating the two businesses and used the massive venue of the theater to create the Castaways Club that catered to live rock n’ roll entertainers such as Little Richard, The Platters, Wayne Cochran and others.

Independent Enterprises subsequently became a national leader in the development of shopping centers after starting three regional malls in Chattanooga at Eastgate (1962), Northgate (1972) and the massive Hamilton Place (1987) along with 21 other shopping centers around Chattanooga.

Estimates of the creation of some 15,000 jobs in those 24 properties helped the employment market in the area.

In the 1970s Mr. Lebovitz became a senior vice president with Arlen Realty & Development Corporation, a New York based company when the two companies merged.  Arlen Realty owned several shopping centers on the East Coast of the United States.

During his 30-year career in the industry he allegedly was involved in the operation of more than 200 shopping centers primarily in the Southeast and Northeast areas of the United States.

The Lebovitz family continued in the leadership and substantial ownership in the conglomerate when Moses’ son, Charles Lebovitz, and five associates formed “CBL and Associates, Inc.” in 1978.  The family ownership ties remain today under the leadership of Charles’ sons, Stephen D. and Michael Lebovitz.

The company continued to expand and acquire new properties and at one point was among the top five shopping center owners in the country with assets in the billions and millions of square feet of retail space.

In addition to his business contributions “Mr. Mose” was heavily involved in the community in several capacities. 

His was an active member of the “B’Nai Zion Congregation, a member of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation, The Elks Club, Shriners and a life member of Chattanooga Lodge 199 F&M and an original member and director of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association.

His entrepreneurial legacy was recognized by the Gary W. Rollins College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when he along with four other distinguished Chattanoogans were indicted into the “Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2002”. 

The solutions of the current financial problems affecting CBL caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could well benefit from the wisdom of the late “Mr. Mose”.

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers’ articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

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