Ed Rosenthal, known as "the poet broker" of downtown Los Angeles,… (Arkasha Stevenson, Los…)
The gig: Ed Rosenthal is a licensed real estate broker arranging sales and leases of commercial buildings. Most of Rosenthal's transactions fall in the historic district of downtown Los Angeles, which he says has a "human scale" that the new financial district lacks.
Claim to fame: Rosenthal garnered international attention in 2010 when he got lost on what was to be a brief hike in Joshua Tree National Park. He survived for six grueling days in the desert before being rescued.
Seduced by California: On his first visit to the state in 1976, the New York native fell in love. "It was just so beautiful, and it was laid-back. It was like a new world," Rosenthal said with a touch of an accent picked up primarily in Rockaway, a seaside resort in the borough of Queens.
New career: Armed with a master's degree in economics, the instructor from New Hampshire College followed a time-honored Los Angeles tradition of making himself over upon arrival, first as a carpenter and handyman. After finding fascination in the grand but aging structures he encountered in downtown Los Angeles, Rosenthal entered the real estate business. "I loved the historical buildings right away," he said.
Lyrical perspective: Rosenthal discovered an interest in poetry in sixth grade but hadn't found much to write about since penning romantic verses to high school girlfriends. When downtown's residential renaissance began in the late 1990s, Rosenthal was again spurred to rhyme and became known as "the broker poet" for his verses about the city's real estate evolution. Here's one:
"The homeless are here to stay. The council said it today. The county said it yesterday.
The homeless are here to stay. Not in all districts no way. Only downtown they say.
Sleeping on sidewalks? That's okay. Anywhere in the city — any day! The council said that today."
Seeing poetry in the rough-and-tumble real estate business is unusual, developer Andrew Meieren said. "A lot of people in that environment thrive on the deal and on conquering something," said Meieren, who worked with Rosenthal's company New Downtown Brokerage to buy historic Clifton's Cafeteria in 2010. "For him it is about creating something. He is willing to swim in a tank of scorpions for his love of history and architecture."
Life-changing sojourn: Rosenthal was still celebrating the Clifton's sale when he set out on an easy four-mile hike on a familiar trail in Joshua Tree. He took a wrong turn and found himself lost amid remote, scorched canyons. By the next morning, he was out of water. "What happens is your mouth turns to like sand, and your saliva turns to sand and rocks," he said soon after the ordeal. On the third day he began to write farewells to his wife and daughter, as well as his last will and testament, on his hat. Rosenthal, who is Jewish, relied on his experience with prayer, meditation and fasting to survive three more days — he lost 20 pounds in his ordeal — before being spotted by a sheriff's helicopter crew.
New perspective: His brush with death brought Rosenthal a desire to work only with people whom he finds straightforward, and he tries to be direct and fair in return. "I tend to work with just a few of the same clients over and over." He is writing a book about his experiences and has taken improvisation classes and studied speaking to improve the talks he is sometimes asked to give.
Survival of the nicest: Men usually want to hear what skills and tricks he used to survive, but they're missing the point, Rosenthal said. That's because the best survival techniques wouldn't have saved him if no one was searching for him. "I would have been dead the next day if no one found me," he said. "The key is that I was found by others. I think being a nice person and having a good reputation helped me survive. Maybe they wouldn't have been as interested if I was someone else."
The great connection: "The message is that there is a lot of support in the universe and a lot of collaboration with you that you may not be aware of," he said. "There is a lot of good energy in the universe that will help you along. That's the main thing that I learned in the desert."
Still hiking: His wife, Nicole Kaplan, and his adult daughter, Hilary, who feared they had lost him in 2010, are adamantly against Rosenthal taking another solitary stroll in the wilderness. "Now I hike more with the Sierra Club and with groups," he said. "I am learning about a lot of treasures around the L.A. Basin I wasn't aware of."