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HOW I MADE IT

Ken Kahan strives to build 'something you would be proud of'

The founder of real estate development firm California Landmark says his eye for detail and attention to quality sets his work apart.

June 14, 2013|By Cale Ottens, Los Angeles Times
  • Ken Kahan, president of real estate development firm California Landmark, recommends focusing on quality.
Ken Kahan, president of real estate development firm California Landmark,… (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Ken Kahan, 54, is founder and president of California Landmark, a real estate development company that has made its mark throughout the Los Angeles area by acquiring, rehabilitating and building new projects in both commercial and residential real estate. He is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization, which is based in West Los Angeles. Kahan frequently finds himself on job sites, getting his hands dirty. "We don't call ourselves developers," Kahan said. "We call ourselves builders. We really care about what we do and how long our work will last. That's why we're called California Landmark."

Rising high: Since its founding in 1988, California Landmark has built and developed several million square feet of real estate space. The company now has three luxury apartment complexes under construction. It also is about to start building custom homes in Century City and an industrial-looking mixed-use complex in Marina del Rey's Marina Arts District. There are two other projects in the works that aren't quite a done deal, Kahan said.

The start: Kahan earned an undergraduate degree in political science from UCLA in 1980 and earned a law degree there three years later. It didn't take long, however, for Kahan to realize his passion was not the law. In 1984, he was hired by Albert Glickman and Associates, a development company based in Beverly Hills. Soon after that, he started working with mall owner Macerich Real Estate Co., which is where he tackled his first large project: an indoor shopping center.

Rough patch: "We struggled. It was a really difficult time," Kahan said about the shopping center. "The key to a shopping center has to be the anchor tenants." Kahan said he soon realized that anchor tenants are more important than the building developer. That was frustrating for him, and he said he almost gave up on the industry as a result. "I'm done. I'm out of here," Kahan recalled saying. "I'm not going to do this anymore."

Turning point: At the same time Kahan was working with the shopping center developers, he was shadowing his father, who was building a housing complex for seniors. He served as an assistant for the project and learned "everything you could know about building," he said. The assisted living complex — Beverly Hills Carmel, located on Burton Way — turned out to be very successful, Kahan said, which made him realize he could still have a future in the real estate industry. He decided his true passion was with residential real estate.

Big break: With financial support from family and friends, Kahan founded California Landmark and completed the first project that was entirely his own, a condominium development. It was the first time he dealt with every aspect of the building process, from design to construction. "It's a constant learning curve," he said.

Eye for detail: Kahan said he strives to set his work apart from other buildings. He travels all over the world and said he walks every day for about eight hours when he's visiting a new city to understand its individual culture. He is often inspired by foreign designs and architecture and tries to emulate them in his work.

He recalled one apartment complex his company was building, where he one day stood in what would become a master bedroom while the framing process was still underway. He looked out where the room's window was designed to go and spotted a light pole in the distance. He quickly instructed the framers to move the window so the future residents would have a better view from the room. Paying attention to details like these is what sets his work apart, he said.

Challenges: "The most difficult part is dealing with zoning issues in communities because you have to make sure you meet their needs and build something aesthetically pleasing," said Kahan, adding that there can be thousands of regulations to abide by. "Often you have to find a way to compromise so it works for everyone."

Advice: Kahan said he has received quite a bit of advice through the years, but it's not always very good. "The worst piece of advice is to build and develop for the money," he said. "People often think if you build to the maximum, you'll make the most money."

The most important element of real estate is constructing properties of quality, he said: "Build and develop for the long term, something you would be proud of."

Family: Kahan recently celebrated 32 years of marriage with his wife, Roneet. They live in the older part of Cheviot Hills in Los Angeles and have three grown children — two sons and a daughter.

Spare time: With what extra time Kahan has, he tries to remain active. He meets with a personal trainer twice a week and rides his road bike on the weekends, he said, adding that he can ride up to about 70 miles. He also enjoys skiing and reading the newspaper to keep up with international issues.

But perhaps his favorite thing to do is travel so he can check out the real estate and architecture of places throughout the world. "Real estate for me is not a business, it's a passion," he said. "I'm probably out of the house once a month, between three and five days," visiting various parts of the globe.

cale.ottens@latimes.com

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