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Developer Jona Goldrich : Deal Maker Transforms Downtown L.A.

August 17, 1986|TOM FURLONG | Times Staff Writer

Longtime real estate developers in Los Angeles used to know Jona Goldrich as an eager young immigrant from Israel, not long off a Greyhound bus, who installed window screens for a quarter apiece and cleaned up housing construction sites in such places as the San Fernando Valley.

"He had his hat in his hand, looking for work," builder Julian Weinstock recalled. "He was very humble."

Though Goldrich is still humble, his friends say, the hat has long since vanished from his hand.

Now 58, Goldrich cruises Southern California in elegant automobiles, moves with the real estate elite of Beverly Hills and has been a major force behind developments that are altering the fabric of many California cities, Los Angeles in particular.

Goldrich is the multimillionaire majority owner of Goldrich & Kest Industries, a diversified development concern based in Culver City whose modest roots in construction cleanup are now but a blur in the company's rear-view mirror.

Goldrich & Kest projects of all types dot the state, varying from mammoth to mundane in neighborhoods from tony to tawdry. The firm owns housing for the poor in Pasadena, boat slips for the rich in Marina del Rey and retirement homes for the elderly throughout the state.

"He's into so much that I don't have a clue about where he's at," one Beverly Hills banker complained. "He could be making $100 million or losing $100 million." (The company is healthy financially, Goldrich said, with revenue surpassing $200 million a year, but he would not reveal its earnings.)

Goldrich is one of a group of European-born Jews who, after surviving or narrowly avoiding the Nazi death camps of World War II, eventually made their way to Los Angeles and grew rich in California's development boom. It was 33 years ago last May that Goldrich arrived in Los Angeles, where he spent his first days living in a $1-a-night downtown hotel.

Another of the group is Goldrich's publicity-shy partner, Sol Kest, the only one of nine children in his family to survive concentration camp incarceration. Goldrich met Kest in 1959 when Kest was a laborer on a construction site; Kest now runs the company's far-flung construction and apartment management operations.

Business associates of Goldrich describe him as an ethical deal-maker with outsized ambition and energy. "I think he wants to own the city," longtime friend Stanley Black said. "The money he makes, he'll never spend. Business is an ego trip for him. He loves to make deals."

Goldrich is a voluble and animated man who loves to talk business and politics. He is a wealthy builder who was once a top union leader in Israel, a self-made man with strong liberal sympathies, a naturalized American citizen who remains fiercely loyal to Israel.

Informal, Unpretentious

Informal and unpretentious, Goldrich sometimes maps out his business deals with his real estate development pals over breakfast on Saturday morning at Nate 'n' Al, the well-known Beverly Hills deli.

Along with developer Nathan Shapell, Goldrich is spearheading the major residential developments in downtown Los Angeles, believing that one day it will give up its image as a place that people are eager to get away from, especially at night, and will rival other big-city downtowns as an attractive place to live.

"There's no doubt in my mind that downtown is growing up," Shapell said. "Traffic has become a nightmare and people want to live close to work."

It's a thrust strongly supported by the city of Los Angeles. "We're trying very hard to make downtown Los Angeles a 24-hour city," said Marti Snyder, head of housing operations for the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Goldrich-Shapell joint ventures include the Promenade condominium and apartment complexes on Bunker Hill. The latest addition is the just-completed $60-million Promenade Towers, a twin-tower apartment and office complex hard by the Harbor Freeway.

Construction on the Grande Promenade--a $200-million, 972-unit apartment, retail and office complex next to Crocker Center--is to begin shortly. Goldrich and Shapell are also minority partners in a $1.2-billion residential, commercial and retail development known as California Plaza, now under construction on Bunker Hill.

Goldrich is a well-known figure around Los Angeles City Hall, where his clout as a builder is ranked with the best in Southern California. It was the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, for example, that issued tax-exempt revenue bonds to finance Promenade Towers, where rents range from $700 to $1,800 a month.

Political Contributor

Goldrich's name is also a familiar one on lists of contributors to local politicians, including Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the Los Angeles City Council. "That's where I always run into him--at other people's fund-raisers," City Councilman Marvin Braude said.

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