WESTLAKE VILLAGE — It was the land, warmer weather and the promise of new things that made Robert Selleck gamble and move his family from Detroit to the San Fernando Valley in 1948.
Coldwell Banker offered him a job in Los Angeles as a real estate agent, but with no salary and no weekly guarantee against future sales. Everything was to be based on commission, his wit and his ability to sell. He took the job.
"It was a little adventurous; you've got to be young to do that," Selleck, now 74, remembers.
So he came west with his wife and two young sons, Bob Jr. and Thomas--who would grow up to be TV and movie star Tom Selleck--as the family settled in Van Nuys. At the time, the Valley was more farmland than anything else, with the first crops of suburban homes starting to take root.
Bob Selleck holds up his arm at a 45-degree angle to show how the Southern California real estate market grew for the next 40 years. Selleck rode that wave, as the births of a daughter, Marti, and a son, Daniel, followed. They all lived in a comfortable, middle-class cocoon and watched the Valley grow.
To this day, most members of the Selleck family have made their living off the land--Southern California real estate, that is--and now the old General Motors assembly plant site in Panorama City is in their hands.
Bob Selleck, his three sons and their family business, Selleck Properties, are partners with the Voit Cos. in the planned rebirth of the vacant, 68-acre GM site, expected to cost $75 million to $100 million. Their hope is to turn that hole in the ground into a bustling shopping center with big retail stores, maybe Home Depot, Toys R Us, a supermarket, movie-theater complex and restaurants, plus industrial space for small and medium-size manufacturing firms.
Along the way, they may help jump-start the Valley's economy by providing a couple of thousand jobs.
The area around the GM site is crime-ridden, but Tom Selleck remembers that neighborhood when it was a better place. "Maybe we can change some of the personality of the neighborhood," he said. "We're not in business just for civic purposes. But the Valley is where we grew up, and with all of Dad's experience in the Valley, it seemed a good fit."
Selleck Properties in Westlake Village is a small firm with six real estate investments--it's developed and sold off other sites--and has put up shopping centers from Lancaster to Torrance.
The GM project is their highest-profile effort, and maybe the riskiest.
The business is run by Bob Jr. and Dan, with counsel from their dad, although Tom said, "I'm not just a cardboard cutout." He likes to know what's going on, so the family meets once a week to crunch numbers together.
Bob Jr., 52, is the eldest of the Selleck brothers and the tallest at 6 feet 7, while Tom, 51, is the runt at 6 feet 4, and Dan, 40, is the youngest.
Bob Jr. remembers getting introduced to real estate as a child on weekends when his mother was busy with errands, and his dad took them to open houses at homes he was trying to sell. "We sort of picked up an interest in real estate through osmosis," Bob Jr. said.
Real estate people are quick with numbers and Bob Sr. still remembers the math on his first home in Van Nuys. The price was $11,000, and after his $2,000 down payment, his mortgage was $55.65 a month. He also remembers 1960 as a great year. Riding the real estate wave and selling both homes and commercial space, Bob Selleck's commissions hit $70,000. That was almost as much as President Eisenhower earned.
Later, he managed Coldwell Banker's Encino office with 50 agents and served as president of the Coliseum Commission before retiring from Coldwell Banker in 1986.
Given family members' impressive height, it was no surprise that Tom and Dan played basketball for USC. But Bob Jr. came the closest to making the big leagues. He pitched at USC, and Tommy Lasorda, then an obscure Dodgers scout, signed Bob Jr. to a Dodgers contract.
On the pitcher's mound, the 6-foot-7 Bob Jr. was a terror. But it wasn't his fastball so much as his wildness. He played in the minors for three years, never getting past A-level ball, before his wild arm and a bad knee ended his pitching dreams.
Then he followed his father into real estate, working 12 years with Sav-On Drugs and scouting out new spots to open pharmacies. He had a hand in opening 150 stores. By 1983, Bob Jr. wanted his own real estate firm and was thinking of teaming up with some developers. "But Tom said we ought to form a family company," Bob Jr. said.
By then, Tom Selleck had money to invest. For years he'd been in actors' no-man's land, appearing on Salem cigarette billboards and as a model for Chaz cologne. "I was largely unemployed before 1980," he recalled.