Eugene Block, 90, of Center City, a former leader of Rosenbluth Travel, died Monday, May 4, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at his home.
Mr. Block joined the Rosenbluth family’s travel business, then called Rosenbluth Bros. Travel Agency, in Philadelphia in 1959. In 1965, the firm got its first big corporate account, GE Aerospace.
In 1967, Rosenbluth Travel Inc. was created as a successor to Rosenbluth Bros. The firm purchased 1515 Walnut St. and moved its operation there. At that time, Mr. Block was a partner along with Joseph W. Rosenbluth and Harold Rosenbluth. Joseph was the brother of Mr. Block’s wife, Cecilie Rosenbluth Block, and Harold was her cousin.
Joseph Rosenbluth died in an airplane crash on March 5, 1968. Afterward, Mr. Block and Harold Rosenbluth served as co-chairmen until 2003, when Rosenbluth International Inc. — by that time the company name — was sold to American Express. Harold Rosenbluth died in 2016.
The travel agency was founded in 1892 by Marcus Rosenbluth to help Eastern European immigrants purchase steamship tickets to the United States. In 1980, the business was one of the 10 largest travel companies in the nation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a 1997 article, the New York Times said the key to Rosenbluth’s steady growth was cornering the lucrative market on corporate travel.
Mr. Block was instrumental in attracting some of Rosenbluth’s early corporate accounts, including Univac, ARCO, and Campbell Soup Co.
In 1979, Mr. Block opened talks with Bethlehem Steel about becoming a Rosenbluth client. He arranged a consulting deal at a nominal fee to establish a relationship.
Several months later, Mr. Block said to the steel company’s travel manager: “My mother always advised me to find out someone’s true intentions. Are we just dating, or is this going somewhere?” Rosenbluth got the account, according to Mr. Block’s son, Charles X. Block.
During his time at Rosenbluth, Mr. Block invested in real estate, including student housing in University City. His real estate assets served as collateral for bank loans that funded Rosenbluth’s expansion and the creation of its first large travel reservation center, in what is now the Parc Rittenhouse.
As Rosenbluth expanded, it outgrew several headquarters. In 1993, Mr. Block spearheaded the purchase of 2401 Walnut St., which served as Rosenbluth’s headquarters from 1994 until the sale of the company.
Born in Tamaqua, Pa., Mr. Block graduated from Tamaqua High School. He worked at his father’s men’s clothing store as a teenager and during breaks from classes at Temple University. He graduated in 1951 with a degree in business.
During the Korean War, he served in the Marine Corps and was stationed at the Opa-locka Marine Air Base in Florida. From 1953 to 1958, he returned to Tamaqua to work in the clothing store.
Six weeks after he met Cecilie Rosenbluth, the two eloped. They married in 1958 and settled in Merion.
The Blocks traveled widely, especially early in their marriage. They enjoyed cruising and crossed the Atlantic many times on the France, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Mr. Block and his wife moved to Center City in 1983 and became fixtures on Rittenhouse Square. They were supporters of the Friends of Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia Art Alliance, and Scheie Eye Institute. He served on the board of trustees of Friends Select School and Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
“It was impossible to walk through Center City with my parents without running into some of their friends,” his son said. “My father was sharp-witted, kind, had a great sense of humor, and was a wonderful storyteller. He impacted the lives of so many people. He will be greatly missed.”
The Blocks vacationed on Long Beach Island, where Mr. Block kept a small rowboat. One of his greatest pleasures was rowing around the bay.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Block is survived by three grandchildren and a brother.
Services were Wednesday, May 6.