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Naseeb Saliba, 1914 - 2008

Construction mogul oversaw local projects

June 01, 2008|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Naseeb m. saliba, a construction mogul and philanthropist whose companies built many Southern California highways and public buildings, including the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, died of a heart ailment May 22 at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Encino. He was 93.

Saliba ran his own construction firm, N.M. Saliba Co., before co-founding Tutor-Saliba in 1971. When he retired in 1996, after more than 50 years in the business, Tutor-Saliba was 54th among the top 400 U.S. general contractors and sixth among the top 20 transportation contractors in terms of sales revenue, according to the construction industry journal Engineering News-Record.

"Everyone assumed because I was 30 years younger that I was the risk-taker and he was the calming influence. It was the opposite," said Ronald N. Tutor, president and chief executive of Tutor-Saliba. "He was a very kind, very good man who feared nothing in the business world. He was always ready to take on risks, no matter what the magnitude."

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Saliba was born in 1914 in Ozark, Ala., and graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1932. He ran an auto dealership in Idaho and owned gas stations and auto repair shops before joining an uncle's construction business in Los Angeles in 1938.

In 1942 he opened N.M. Saliba Co. in Gardena. With operations in Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Utah and California, the company prospered in the postwar construction boom, building highways, dams, tunnels and bridges.

Saliba retired from the company in 1956 when he was 42 but remained active as a consultant on large public works projects, including heavily used stretches of Los Angeles area freeways. His firm helped build the interchange linking the 10 and 405 freeways, which in later years would often be shown in televised traffic reports. "He would get a chuckle every time he'd see it on TV," grandson Trevor Saliba said last week.

In 1971 Saliba came out of retirement to form a partnership with Tutor, whose father, A.G. Tutor, had built schools and other projects in joint ventures with Saliba. Tutor-Saliba, based in Sylmar, has built major infrastructure projects and public buildings, including a large portion of the Alameda Corridor, the Los Angeles Metro Rail system, the San Diego Convention Center and the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport. It is currently building the new downtown headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Saliba continued to go to his office daily until a few weeks ago to manage his charitable interests, which included USC and Pepperdine University.

He is survived by two daughters, Janet Saliba and Debra Leeper; a brother, Leon; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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elaine.woo@latimes.com

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