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Fortitude Is Leimerts' Watchword : Family Engaged in Business for More Than Century

November 09, 1986|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

The staying power of the Walter H. Leimert Co.--a small, low-profile Los Angeles-based real estate development firm--is attributable to fortitude and lots of patience, says its chief executive, whose family has been in the field for more than a century.

President Walter (Tim) Leimert Jr. cites the firm's Cambria Pines development near the fabled Hearst Castle which, he said, required more than eight years of wading through a bureaucratic maze before obtaining approval for the subdivision.

The firm, headquartered in its own building at 606 N. Larchmont Ave. and the largest owner of office space along that main commercial artery of Hancock Park, is a recipient of the Centennial Business Award of the California Historical Society in recognition of its lasting achievements.

The Walter H. Leimert Co. developed Leimert Park, Beverlywood, parts of Baldwin Hills and Beverly Highlands in Los Angeles; the Piedmont and Lakeshore Highlands in the East Bay area of Oakland, and St. Hubert Wood in Orange County.

"My grandfather, Louis Leimert, came to California in 1862, and though trained as a candy maker in his native Germany, he developed a taste for real estate in the Gold Rush era of California," Tim Leimert said.

Settling in Oakland, Louis built several commercial buildings, one of which housed a saloon known as "Timothy Muldoon's" that became the local hangout for a young writer named Jack London.

"My father, Walter Sr., saw the opportunities of the east San Francisco Bay around the turn of the century and after serving a few years as an apprentice in an Oakland bank, formed the Walter H. Leimert Co. in 1902.

"Over the next two decades, he transformed the Oakland hills into some of the loveliest residential areas of all the East Bay," Leimert continued, naming Lakeshore Highlands, Piedmont and Trestle Glen as his father's earlier developments.

Sensing greater opportunities in Southern California, the senior Leimert took his family to Los Angeles in the early 1920s, and launched a real estate business with initial success in Glendale and on the east side of a fast-growing metropolitan Los Angeles.

Donated Park to City

Leimert bought a large ranch owned by Lucky Baldwin's daughter Anita, on which he envisioned a complex of residential and commercial property. The project, which he named Leimert Park, was eventually expanded to about 600 acres, with rough boundaries extending west to Crenshaw Boulevard, north to Exposition Boulevard, south to Vernon Avenue and east to about Arlington Avenue.

Leimert Park was master planned by Olmstead & Olmstead, the firm that laid out Central Park in New York, and the development's park was later donated to the city of Los Angeles and renamed, Leimert Plaza.

A number of Leimert Park homes were designed by other famous architects of the time, among them Sumner Spaulding, Roland Coate and Richard J. Neutra, who at the time were doing several of the large mansions in Hancock Park.

The unusual mix of multiple real estate uses with guidance from the homeowners' association--an innovative concept at that time--led Life magazine to tag Leimert Park the Community of Tomorrow.

'Wave of the Future'

"My father was very much influenced by the J. C. Nichols' Country Club development in Kansas City, the Shaker Heights project in Cleveland and River Oaks in Houston. All had homeowners' associations. Walter Sr. believed it would be the wave of the future and pretty much introduced the concept to the West Coast," Leimert said.

Leimert Park was not a financial success at the start, he recalled. "With the Depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash, you couldn't give real estate away, my father used to say."

Close to bankruptcy, the company's founder struggled along until the late 1930s, when Leimert Park became one of the most sought-after areas in the city.

Following World War II, Walter H. Leimert Sr. was joined by his son Tim, who had served on the famous Ed Murrow CBS news team as a war correspondent in the Pacific and participated in the first B-29 bombing run over Tokyo.

Volunteer UCLA Newscaster

Over the last 37 years, the younger Leimert has dabbled at his former profession as a volunteer newscaster known to thousands as the official UCLA voice over the public address system, first at games held at the Coliseum and now at the Rose Bowl.

Winner of the coveted William May Garland Award in 1976, Tim Leimert became president of his firm in 1960 and president of the Los Angeles Realty Board in 1961. Under his leadership, a part of the West Hollywood hills was transformed into Beverly Highlands. Other developments followed in Orange County and San Fernando Valley.

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