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Headquarters Move Part of Christiana's Change in Direction

September 03, 1985|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

When a group of investors from Texas took control of Christiana Cos. this spring, the company's newly elected chairman promised to steer the San Diego-based real estate investment and development firm toward new horizons.

One unexpected destination appeared last week, when James M. Holbrook, a Texas investor and Christiana board member, announced that Christiana would soon move its corporate headquarters to New York.

Although a local spokesman said Christiana's 24 San Diego-area employees will not be affected by the move, the announcement underscored the drastic changes under way at Christiana--a one-time oil and gas exploration company that, over the years, transformed itself into a real estate development enterprise.

Christiana's 19-person headquarters office here will continue to operate as the company's "real estate arm," said Executive Vice President Ray Logan, who added that residential and senior citizens' community development projects in Tierrasanta and Rancho Bernardo will not be affected by the move.

Handful of Projects

Christiana employees will also continue their work at a handful of development projects in Los Angeles and Orange County.

Christiana's move away from its traditional real estate base began in February, when John H. Roberts Jr., who had forged a controlling interest in Christiana, succeeded long-time executive Martin Fenton as chairman. Fenton remained as Christiana's president and chief operating officer.

Roberts, with offices in Texas and New York, is the chairman of Summit Savings & Loan Assn. in Plainfield, Tex., and also owns a Texas-based investment company.

In April, Roberts described the flurry of acquisition activity that was to follow as "the implementation of Christiana's new strategy for diversification and redeployment of its assets."

Using funds generated by the sale of 16 acres of industrial property in Arizona, Christiana purchased stock in The Remington Club of Rancho Bernardo, a "continuing care community" for senior citizens. Christiana also bought its way into a company that is in the process of buying television stations in Worcester, Mass., and Washington, D.C.

In June, Christiana used proceeds from the sale of other real estate assets to purchase F.A.O. Schwarz, a New York-based retailer of upscale children's toys for an undisclosed amount of cash. Schwarz has about 200 employees at its 22 stores around the country.

At the time, Roberts said Christiana's real estate background made the company a logical candidate to purchase the toy store chain, which was being sold off by a privately held Switzerland-based toy retail company.

Catalogue Sales

Roberts said the chain would likely be expanded and that he intended to nurse Schwarz's anemic catalogue sales division back to health.

Roberts explained that the purchases of a senior citizens development and the toy store chain fit into a corporate plan. Although he chose not to describe plans, Roberts said Christiana had yet to complete its acquisitions strategy.

For the nine months ended March 31, Christiana reported a loss of $665,000, compared to earnings of nearly $1.3 million in the comparable period a year earlier. Revenues for the nine months were nearly $5.9 million, down 60%.

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