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Apartment Building Owners Can Only Watch and Worry

The units represented their ticket to financial security when they moved west in the '40s.

June 07, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

When Mae and Edward Zipperstein moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1948, they had $1,000 and a plan. They wanted to build an apartment building that would provide financial security for their growing family.

They wound up building three, and the simple, no-frills structures -- all on the same stretch of North Spaulding Avenue in the Fairfax district -- became so much a part of the family that they were given names. There was the Mae, the Stevie and the Sharon, the first named for Mae Zipperstein, the others for her first two children.

On Friday, the Zippersteins watched television in horror as the Sharon apartments, struck by a small plane, burned into a blackened shell.

"Howie, it's our building!" Mae Zipperstein said she cried out to her youngest son when she saw the first pictures.

"It is so horrible," she said later, crying. "Horrible. I can't tell you. I see it on television."

In addition to being an apartment owner, Mae Zipperstein is a character of some renown, a wisecracker known to viewers of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," where she has appeared as herself, a personification of the stereotypical Jewish mother.

Among guests with whom she has appeared was a pre-presidential George W. Bush. The home she shares with her husband and youngest son is filled with books and photographs, including pictures of Mae with Bush and with Chick Hearn, the late Laker announcer.

The Zippersteins live about 10 blocks east of the apartment buildings. They took up a vigil at home Friday after hearing the news.

Edward Zipperstein, a retired accountant, an observant Jew and author of the book "Business Ethics and Jewish Law," was partially paralyzed by a stroke three years ago. He said he no longer knows most of his tenants very well.

He and his wife, however, studied the TV screen to see if they could recognize any of the injured tenants. They couldn't.

They worried especially about one longtime renter to whom the couple is close. Edward Zipperstein had last seen him Friday morning, when they attended synagogue together.

The Zippersteins worried, too, about Jeanne Arneberg, the manager they had hired to take care of the building. Mae Zipperstein could barely contain herself when Arneberg finally called shortly after 6 p.m.

"Oh, honey, I'm so worried about you, my darling!" Mae blurted, jumping up and down. "Oh, God! Oh, Jeannie! I love you! I love you!"

After the phone call, she jumped some more, clapped her hands and exclaimed, "She's alive!"

Mae Zipperstein recalled that she and her husband were married in 1945 -- "before I was born," she quipped -- and that Edward told her of his plan to build apartments. "He wanted a future," she said. "I didn't buy new clothes for 25 years."

He intended for her to be the landlord, she said, but it didn't work out that way.

"He told me, you have to write letters and raise rent," she said. But "I was never a landlady. I would give them the world."

The phone rang again. It was a friend, a plumber who had worked on the 14-unit Sharon apartments.

"I'm shaking," Mae Zipperstein told him. "Somebody died.... Isn't it awful?"

*

Times staff writers Mitchell Landsberg and Doug Smith contributed to this report.

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