Downtown real estate speculator David Jump goes for the jugular when he smells blood. Who the hell is this guy?

Gus Torregrossa offers another view. "He's got a heart," says the proprietor of Gus's Fashions and Shoes, the downtown hip-hop clothing store located in Jump's Lesser-Goldman Building. "He wants to see people get ahead. He comes and talks to me all the time: 'How you doing, Gus? How's sales? Is Washington Avenue picking up? I hope it is, because we're doing a lot of development here, and we'd like to keep you on this spot as a tenant because you've been in the community all your life.' We go out and we have breakfast in the morning. A lot of times we'll have dinner together."

Even Jump's most ardent critics concede he's a nice guy -- humble and smart, yet shy and ever-content to be the wallflower. Until recently, he operated his businesses on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, out of old trailer homes mounted on stilts. He's in his early 50s, fit and handsome, married with three children. He works with Boy Scouts.

"He told me once that he has a learning disorder," recalls Bob Cassilly. "And he doesn't understand inference, which is the most brilliant learning disability I've ever heard of. When people say something, he assumes they mean it, and when he says something, you should assume he means it. If you can't understand inference, you can't understand double-talk."

The Lesser-Goldman Building at 1201-1219 
Washington is rumored to be close to a sale.
Ryan Hudson
The Lesser-Goldman Building at 1201-1219 Washington is rumored to be close to a sale.
The Cheerful House building at 1113-1129 
Washington: a dilapidated monstrosity
Ryan Hudson
The Cheerful House building at 1113-1129 Washington: a dilapidated monstrosity

Cassilly, who bike-rides with Jump on Sundays, compares his friend to an ancient conqueror. "He's completely indifferent to comfort, like Attila the Hun," says Cassilly. "He could ride night and day. And he sees second-generation money and holds it in contempt. He's really a self-made man. He admires action and bold moves. He doesn't put any limits on himself."

Jump is generous with his time, especially with children; he once took a group of kids on an adventure in the Bahamas. But he doesn't flaunt his wealth. "You would never believe the man had a building," says Torregrossa. "You always see him with a hammer, nails. You'd think he was one of the workers. He's always got a smile for you."

"He always dresses like a man of the land," adds Larry Amitin, owner of A. Amitin Book Shop, "not like a French aristocrat or someone from the house of royalty."

"I think the problem for Dave is he does his own laundry," quips Kevin McGowan. "And that's not his strong suit at all. But I'll also say this: Every T-shirt you ever see him in, he brags that it was free."

Gentry Trotter laughs as he tells the story of the beginnings of his charity organization Heat-Up St. Louis, which helps pay the bills of lower-income St. Louisans and keeps its offices in Jump and Glasser's International Building. Strapped for cash five years ago and looking for donations, Trotter went to Jump, who sits on Heat-Up's board. Jump had recently closed on the Bee Hat Building at 1021 Washington, acquiring with the building an avalanche of hats.

Jump told Trotter that he couldn't offer money but would gladly donate his bounty. "I went in that building," recalls Trotter, "and there were millions and billions of hats -- fedoras, ten-gallon hats, straw hats, felt hats, Sunday hats. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven." Jump helped Trotter load the hats for the sale. "Every time I saw him after that he said, 'Do you have enough hats?' He would have given us hats until the Second Coming. We made $75,000."

Still, Jump shows little emotion when it comes to business. After purchasing the Lesser-Goldman Building, Jump evicted Larry Amitin, an arduous process made more difficult because of the hundreds of thousands of books on the shop's three floors. Ultimately, Jump had to sue Amitin to force him to move.

"At one point," recalls Amitin, "I literally got down on my hands and knees and begged Dave to let me stay in the building. He just turned his back and said, 'No, Larry, I can't do it.'"

But Amitin doesn't hold a grudge. "With a little work, Jump could become a mensch," he says. "He can't live in darkness his whole life. There's a better man inside of him that wants to come out. But he's been badgered, and he got insensitive when people just kept whacking away at him."

The key to uncovering some of the mystery of David Jump is Sam Glasser, Jump's real estate partner. Glasser's a character, with his no-holds-barred demeanor and slight New York accent. The best way to hear the full story, a former associate suggests, is to meet Glasser at Kitchen K, one of his hangouts. "Buy him cocktails," says the associate, smiling. "He'll either talk, or he'll stick a pen in your neck."

Glasser is sitting at his desk at New Realty on a recent afternoon when told of the impending profile of his friend David Jump.

"He's a business partner, not a friend," he says flatly, "and I don't talk about my business partners." Glasser wears artsy black-framed glasses, a blue blazer and jeans. One of the middle buttons on his blue oxford is missing, and when he leans over he reveals a touch of pale skin. He's a tall man with a wide smile and a healthy head of mussed dark brown hair. He looks like a mix of Gregory Peck and Stephen King.

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