Plaza Watch! Billionaire Montana Philanthropist Buys $19 M. Spread

The Plaza is about as far away from Dennis J. Washington’s childhood hometown of Missoula Montana as you can get, so it’s a fitting place for the septuagenarian billionaire and self-styled Horatio Alger to spend his twilight years.

His wife Phyllis has paid nearly $19 million for a 19th floor-condo at the Plaza, city records show.

The Washington Company’s website details its founder’s rise "from humble beginnings to rank among the Forbes 400 Wealthiest Americans (most recently in 2005)."

He lived in a government housing project, contracted polio when he was eight, then bounced around relatives’ homes until he was 14 and became self-sufficient. "His inspiring journey has been termed an American success story," the website says.

In a 2005 profile "The man with the Toys," Forbes estimated Mr. Washington had amassed a fortune worth $2.5 billion "by buying broken companies, mostly ones involving large mechanical objects, and making them run better."

His privately held portfolio includes such diverse holdings as a copper mine in Butte, a 1,000-mile privately rail line, an aircraft supply business, a heavy-equipment dealership, and a fleet of 23 container ships, a few of which are as big as the aircraft carrier Nimitz.

But it hasn’t been a total buying spree since Mr. Washington began managing his first construction company in the 1960’s.

"In light of his extraordinary success, Dennis Washington recognizes a need to give back to the country and communities that made it possible," the website reads.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation has donated over $38 million to various charities since 1988–including Young Life, an interdenominational Christian youth ministry–and was the premier sponsor of the Summer Special Olympic Games from 2003-2005.