How fitting that on the eve of his 100th birthday, Henry Lew Zuckerman should be living on the Victory campus of the Jewish Homes for the Aging in Reseda and, as one its founders, reaping the fruits of his efforts.
It is no small victory to reach one's own centennial but it is even a greater triumph to reach it without the major health problems associated with old age, to be active in several organizations, and caught up in the excitement of politics, TV talk and game shows.
On Tuesday--his birthday--Zuckerman, reportedly the nation's oldest realtor, will be honored at a party at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, co-sponsored by the Zuckerman family, the Jewish Homes for the Aging and the Homes' support group, the Guardians. The dinner committee is headed by Sidney Morse, president of the California Mart, and Allen Ziegler, president of Westco Products.
Lew Zuckerman is a disciplined man who rises early, takes regular walks and never misses feeding the tiny sparrows that cluster around his window. "All I have to do is whistle and they come. They know me well by now," Zuckerman said.
"I always loved little birds," he said, revealing the gentleness of his nature that has always reached out in caring ways. He pointed with pride to the family pictures that surround him and spoke fondly of the yearly family picnics and visits with his four great-grandchildren--all girls, including triplets.
Last week Zuckerman, who in 1980 was named Realtor Emeritus by the National Board of Realtors, reminisced about his long and active life as a commercial realtor, providing a personal perspective of events in and around Los Angeles.
A native of Hungary, Zuckerman came to this country as a penniless boy of 15 who rose to be a civic leader, member of the county Grand Jury, 32nd degree Mason and 60-year Shriner.
"My first memory of the United States was that of Emma Lazarus' poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty as I disembarked from the S. S. Rotterdam on Ellis Island," he said. It inspired him to return to Hungary years later to bring his entire family to the proverbial land of opportunity.
"In the early days, I worked for $4 a month plus room and board. I later apprenticed with a cigar maker and eventually learned the tailoring trade in New York City and Albany before my brother Sam and I decided to go West to try our luck."
In 1906 Zuckerman became an American citizen and moved to Los Angeles where he started a cleaning business on Hill Street, near the present site of the Biltmore Hotel. "A laundry-wagon driver, Ben Weingart (who also became a prominent realtor), persuaded me to take in laundry as well, and the two of us formed a partnership and a life-long friendship."
His eyes filled with tears as he talked about Sadie Belle Goldberg, daughter of a prominent Jewish leader in Los Angeles, to whom he was married for nearly 75 years.
"Our wedding took place where the Music Center stands today. It was then the site of the Beth Israel Synagogue, where Sadie's father was president. The Times covered the event with a photograph that was described as the first photo of an orthodox wedding," Zuckerman said.
Three years later, the Zuckermans were instrumental in arranging special housing for four elderly Jewish residents of the county Poor Farm (site of the present Rancho Los Amigos) during Passover. After the holidays, it was decided to provide them with permanent housing. Eventually, others moved into what became the nucleus of the Home for Old People. Over the years, the facility evolved into the Jewish Home for the Aged that for years was located in Boyle Heights. Zuckerman was one of the founders.
By 1920, Zuckerman had established a successful commercial real estate business, but prior to that he had also been a saloonkeeper (a career that ended with Prohibition). In later years, he opened the first of the Sally Shops and helped build up the chain with his two sons, Ted and the late Marvin Zuckerman. The ready-to-wear chain later dominated the Southland market for 25 years with 70 separate stores.
His real contribution, however, was to be his continued interest and dedicated efforts on behalf of the helpless and downtrodden. He voices his dislike for "wealthy people who never do a damn thing for other people. It breaks my heart."
Zuckerman built his own realty company at 2nd Street and Western Avenue during Prohibition, and in 1924 became the developer of the 13-story Commercial Exchange Building at 8th and Olive streets.
"That building turned out to be a very unusual project," Zuckerman said. "In those days the height limit was 165 feet and not more than 12 stories and a basement. Ours was a commercial building with some pretty heavyweight tenants, such as New York Life Insurance which occupied two floors, and in those days we began leasing the space for $2 per square foot per year to pull in this type of tenant."