Louis Lesser

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Louis Lesser
LouisLesser.JPG
Louis Lesser during a discussion of Lesser Diesel Enterprises
Born (1916-06-15)June 15, 1916
Los Angeles, California, United States
Died January 29, 2013(2013-01-29) (aged 96)
Occupation Chairman of Louis Lesser Enterprises

Louis Lesser (June 15, 1916 – January 29, 2013) was an American business magnate. He received frequent press coverage in the 1950s and 1960s for his ability to earn money and for his various business operations.[1][2] He sold the Taj Mahal casino property to New York real estate developer Donald Trump. Trump called Lesser "The Legend" as the historic biggest developer in the history of the western US, developing over 60,000 properties in the Western United States.[3] He was a mentor to the legendary investor Warren Buffett and Tracinda Corporation CEO Kirk Kerkorian.[3] Louis Lesser was partners with banker Meyer Lansky and financier Kirk Kerkorian in the purchase of numerous Las Vegas hotels and casinos, including the Frontier Hotel and casino, renamed the New Frontier Hotel after it was sold by Lesser to Howard Hughes.[4] He remains the biggest real estate developer in the U.S. West Coast in American history.[3][5]

Many of Lesser's development projects were large in scale or of historic significance, such as Barrington Plaza, the largest urban renewal project in the western United States under President John F. Kennedy. Barrington Plaza also served as a nuclear fallout shelter at the peak of the Cold War nuclear threat, with Lesser appointed to the Los Angeles County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission during the Kennedy Administration.[6][7][8][9]

Lesser's business operations were noted around the world for their diversity and quantity, with 250 companies and 150 partners by 1960. Some of Lesser's partners and associates were well known public figures—for example, Lesser was the landlord and developer for many of Howard Hughes' properties.[10] Lesser developed, owned, and leased many properties for the military industrial complex during the cold war, and developed, owned, and operated numerous large hotels, commercial and industrial properties, apartment complexes, and housing tracts, developing over 60,000 properties in his career.

Lesser was named the Los Angeles City of Hope "Man of the Year" and received a commendation from the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors for business achievement and philanthropy in 1961.[2][11][12]

Lesser was a "real estate developer", not a "builder". Quoting Lesser in 1963, the New York Times wrote, "‘Developing’ is the key word. ‘We don’t build ourselves’, Mr. Lesser stresses. ‘We buy the land, finance the deal, and then we have the best builders build under bond at a fixed cost.’"[2]

Early history in business[edit]

Lesser began his business career working as a door-to-door magazine salesman at age 8, in 1924. Lesser sold Collier's Weekly Magazine and Liberty Magazine for Crowell Publishing. Lesser made a deal with the chief of the Fox Studios police force in Los Angeles to gain entrance to sell magazines to actors and film industry workers. Lesser sold almost 100 times the volume of other sales boys, and just after he left high school Crowell offered him a job as superintendent of the area distribution. Lesser turned down the Crowell job offer to work for his father's small women's coats and suits manufacturing business in the Los Angeles area.[1]

Lesser took over planning and merchandising at his father's business in 1932. Lesser changed the focus of the business to specialize in oversized women's coats. Aged 16, Lesser made $518,561 in his first year, despite 1932 being in the depth of the Great Depression (calculated in current dollars, $30,000 in 1932 dollars). Then Lesser enlarged the business to mass sales to volume dealers. Lesser gained exclusive sales deals with Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. By the time Lesser entered the Army, he had grown his father's small business into five coat factories.[1]

In 1947, Lesser bought four ranches and two packing houses in the Coachella Valley with a down payment $1,996,189 (figures in current dollars adjusted for inflation, $189,000 in 1947 dollars). Lesser grew grapefruits and dates, anticipating the lifting of World War II price ceilings. Five days after the purchase, the ceilings were lifted, and Lesser made back his down payment in about a month. Lesser sold the ranching and farming business in about 1949.[1]

In about 1950, Lesser went into the gasoline distribution business and acquired a group of super stations, a tire recapping factory, and an oil packing plant. Lesser's "self service gas station" concept proved a success for gas stations, and Lesser combined with Eagle Oil Co., becoming the company's largest stock holder. Lesser then merged with Sunset Oil Co. and became its vice president. Lesser was elected vice president of Sunset Oil Co. on April 5, 1960, with J.D. Sterling elected president, and Harvey Nerson secretary-treasurer.[1][13]

In 1961, Lesser purchased a 50% interest in Southwest Savings and Loan Association of Phoenix, and a large interest in the Bank of Phoenix.[14]

Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc.[edit]

Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. was listed on the American Stock Exchange and developed and operated over $10 billion in commercial and residential development and over $5 Billion in housing projects for the Armed Forces, also according to Lesser's sworn filing with the court for the bankruptcy of Tri National Development Corp., and according to Los Angeles real estate magnate Gerald Schneiderman of Creative Environments of Hollywood. Arthur Andersen audited Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. in 1963 and the SEC approved listing on the American Stock Exchange for sale of 500,000 shares[2] in 1963. In a nine-year time frame, Louis Lesser Enterprises had gone from (adjusted for inflation) a $1,756,382 company to a $462,195,652 company in 1963.[2] At the time of the public offering, one of Louis Lesser's companies, Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc., had developed $3,851,630,435 (adjusted for inflation) worth of real estate in California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Hawaii, which does not include his international development, nor development by his other companies and partnerships.[2] In 2009, Lesser and Eric John Diesel merged assets to form Lesser Diesel Enterprises, Inc.[15][16][17][17][18]

Lesser created Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. in early 1952. Lesser brought his brother Alvin, and three brothers-in-law in to help run his firm, Bill Malat, Louis Rudman, and Louis Lomas, who became controller. By 1954, Louis Lesser Enterprises was engaged in a developing projects in three states totaling $614,733,581 in today's dollars ($70 million in 1954). Lesser's colleague, William Malat, husband of Lesser's sister Ethel Malet, said Lesser was involved in a $40 million ($351,276,332 in today's dollars) project to build an "entire city" for the San Manuel Copper Mine of the San Manuel Copper Corporation in Pinal County, Arizona (now BHP, the world's largest copper mine),[19] Benjamin Harrison Village near Ft. Benjamin Harrison at Indianapolis, Centerline Gardens, Inc. near the Detroit Tank Arsenal, a program near the Los Angeles International Airport, projects in the San Fernando Valley and in San Diego.[20] Within eight years, the company had built thousands of homes, over 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2) of office space, seven bowling alleys, numerous apartment buildings, and five shopping centers, and became involved in hundreds of developments across the United States. Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc., grew from a net worth of $1,762,935 in 1953 ($200K in 1953 dollars) to $385,163,043 by 1963 ($60 million in 1963 dollars).[21]

For historic comparison with executive salaries today, and comparative efficiencies, in 1963, Lesser drew a salary from Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. of $442,937 (adjusted for inflation, $57,500 in 1963) on a $462,195,652 (adjusted for inflation) company, Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. had developed $3,851,630,435 by then (adjusted for inflation) worth of real estate in the United States, with his brother-in-law William Malat, executive vice president, getting $365,905 (adjusted for inflation, $47,500 in 1963), with a staff of 40.[2]

Lesser resigned as chairman of Louis Lesser Enterprises in 1967, after a purchase of 6% of the company stock by industrialist Henry Salvatori from the Lesser family, and was replaced by Salvatori's associate Paul Allison Cassell, and the company changed its name to Western Orbis Co.. After Lesser's departure from the company, it began to lose money.[22]

Howard Hughes' landlord[edit]

Louis Lesser was Howard Hughes' landlord in many Hughes Aircraft buildings,[23][24][25][26] and sold many other buildings to Hughes in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, Hughes was leasing six major Hughes Aircraft buildings, for a total of 265,000 square feet (24,600 m2), from Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. By 1964 Hughes was leasing 14 buildings totaling 1,200,000 square feet (110,000 m2),[15] and purchased other buildings Lesser developed and owned for Hughes Aircraft, then began to buy out Lesser's interests in Louis Lesser Enterprises stock in Las Vegas hotels and casinos.[10]

Development partnerships with international leaders[edit]

In 1958, Lesser expanded his development operations, establishing offices in Washington, D.C. and New York for Louis Lesser Enterprises International. Lesser concluded a deal with Prince Kashim Kashani of Iran in a program to develop 20,000 homes and apartments in Teheran. The same year, Lesser International began the construction of a grain warehouse for use by the Mexican Government, and began construction of a skyscraper office building in Caracas, Venezuela, to be owned in association with Financiadora Administradora Inmobiliaria, S.A.. The company was one of the largest real estate development firms in South America but very controversial due to its association with then Venezuelan president, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and his administration's suspected layers of corruption.[27][28]

Concepts and trends[edit]

Lesser's developments, such as through Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc., used methods that are now standard practice, or characterize the lifestyle of the time.

In 1960, Lesser worked on an early environmental reclamation project with Irwin Kahn, San Diego's biggest developer. They developed the Shelter Island Inn on a reclaimed World War II dumping ground, Shelter Island in San Diego Bay, an early example of an environmental reclamation project.[29]

Lesser promoted high-rise construction in Los Angeles, and was opposed to those favoring urban sprawl as a part of the character of Los Angeles. Lesser developed the 27 story 712 unit Barrington Plaza, which was the tallest high-rise apartment complex in the western United States as of 1963. Lesser owned a 50% interest in the Braemar Lesser Towers, a 192 apartment high-rise on Sunset Strip. Lesser Towers, developed next to the Ambassador Hotel, featured 236 apartments overlooking downtown. Lesser's California State University, Los Angeles, high-rise construction was considered an innovative approach to university development in increasingly shrinking horizontal area in Los Angeles, in 1964. Lesser was involved in litigation to build high-rises, in opposition to those favoring urban sprawl, who argued that the high-rises would block their views of the local mountains.[21][30]

Lesser developed six 10-story high-rise residential halls to house 3,600 students at California State University, Los Angeles, which lacked space for horizontal expansion after implementation of a California State University expansion plan in 1959. This doubled the university's housing capacity, making it the largest in the California State University system, only five years after its creation in 1959. The University housing plan was designed by Maxwell Starkman & Associates, AIA, Beverly Hills. Unlike other components of the Cal State University system developed in the 1960s, the residence halls were privately financed by Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. Lesser's developed "underground parking" in his Cal State LA development, which at the time (1964) was considered unusual enough to merit a newspaper section header, "Parking Underground", which described a "two level" underground parking lot as an innovative "concept" of "subterranean spaces".[21][30]

The Lesser Building was built in what was at the time considered a futuristic style. The offices of Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. were moved to the 45,000-square-foot (4,200 m2) Lesser Building upon its completion in 1963, located at 8730 Wilshire Blvd., at the corner of Arnaz Ave., in Beverly Hills, California. upon completion of construction in 1963.[31]

Tilt up construction, The "Modern California mode" in industrial and architectural style, Nuclear missile storage[edit]

In the mid-1950s, Lesser developed, held, and leased industrial centers for lease employing what the Los Angeles Times described as "the latest innovations in industrial design", tilt up precast concrete walls with an interlocked floor, in "modern California mode" using facades of California rock and flagstone covering the precast concrete walls. Examples are the buildings Lesser developed and leased to Howard Hughes in Lesser's Airport Industrial Center and elsewhere, in 1955 the Panorama Industrial Center, developed with Alfred Lushing of Midland Properties for $105,644,720 (adjusted for inflation) on a 25-acre (100,000 m2) plot of the original ranch now known as Panorama City, the X-Ray Products Co. facility at Lesser's Slauson Industrial Center, for a total cost of over $52,046,512 (adjusted for inflation). X-Ray Products Co. specialized in x-ray inspection of industrial parts, and in Lesser's "Airport Industrial Center" at Freeman and Imperial Highway, three Pioneer Aluminum, Inc. buildings, totaling 90,000 square feet (8,400 m2), for long term lease to the distributor of extruded aluminum shapes to the then growing aircraft industry, for $13,011,628 (adjusted for inflation)($1.5 million 1956).[10][32][33][33]

In 1959, Lesser developed a structure intended, in part, to store missile parts at the height of the cold war in San Diego, the Convair Astronautics Division for General Dynamics. The structure was at the time a historic tilt up construction, due to the project size at the time. The "enormity" of the project required special water lines to be brought in. It was developed on 28 acres (110,000 m2), with a 336,000 square feet (31,200 m2) building footprint, 150,000 cubic yards of soil excavated for the project, leveling an entire valley, with 14 acres (57,000 m2) of developed paved parking, 36,000 square feet (3,300 m2) of office space, 20-foot-tall (6.1 m) walls to the bottom of the truss, and a roof made entirely of metal, pioneering large-scale buildings of this type regularly made later in the 1960s.[34]

Military Housing[edit]

Lesser had developed 3,350 rental housing units for military personnel under the Wherry Rental Housing Act, at 14 Department of Defense installations in the continental United States and Hawaii, representing construction values of $293,892,180 (adjusted for inflation, $35 million 1957). In 1957, the Wherry Rental Housing Act was replaced by the Capehart Housing Act, under which Lesser developed an additional 680 military rental housing units at the Capehart Housing Project at the Bunker Hill Air Force Base at Peru, Indiana for $125,953,791 (adjusted for inflation, $15 million 1957), with Heftler Construction Co, for 680 housing units for commissioned and non-commissioned personnel, with units ranging from bachelor quarters to four bedroom houses, occupying 180 acres (0.73 km2) on the air base, with financing assumed by the Indiana Teachers Association retirement fund, and the contract awarded under competitive bidding.[35][36]

Commercial "Exhibition Space" Movement[edit]

While Lesser developed, held, and leased out many properties, he also took master leases then developed and subleased large commercial spaces, such as the 52,000-square-foot (4,800 m2) fourth floor of the Los Angeles Furniture Mart at Broadway, Washington Blvd., and Hill St. in downtown Los Angeles, where he leased, developed, then subleased to wholesalers of housewares, art, and giftwares for display space, and where the Mart's semiannual National Market Weeks was then held. In 1957, the mart was scheduled to be the largest wholesale exhibit structure in America, with more than 850,000 square feet (79,000 m2) of display space and 7 acres (28,000 m2) of parking, banquet rooms, a restaurant, auditorium, and banking facilities.[37]

"Baby Boomers" named, and development for[edit]

In 1951, the New York Post, used the term "boom" to refer to the phenomenon of increased births in post war America, "Take the 3,548,000 babies born in 1950. Bundle them into a batch, bounce them all over the bountiful land that is America. What do you get? Boom. The biggest, boomiest boom ever known in history."[38] 1959 was the busiest real estate year in southern California history to date,[39] and the expressions "babies" and "boom" were used together in an LA Times story about Lesser titled "War Babies to Bring Big Boom".[39] Writer Al Johns commented "I’m always amazed at this man, Louis Lesser. Seems there's a letter in the mail every few days telling of another of his projects", describing Lesser's "huge building programs" for the post World War II population expansion and population movement to the western United States, to "keep pace with the anticipated expansion of the national economy". In 1959, Lesser announced a $970,821,918 (adjusted for inflation, $120 million in 1959) program, taking in 32 cities in 14 states and "the Territory of Hawaii" (Hawaii was not yet a state), 11 industrial centers with 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2) of industrial buildings, 3,431 apartment units, ranging from 4 unit buildings to 23 story steel reinforced concrete stcuctures, 4,500 single family homes, six shopping centers, two office buildings, two bowling alleys, together with development of 3,700 acres (15 km2) of residential land, acquired an additional $161,803,653 (adjusted for inflation, $20 million 1959) worth of industrial, residential, and commercial land, and engaged large staffs of architects, engineers, and construction expediters.[39]

Bowling alleys of the late 1950s and early 1960s, "small cities in themselves"[edit]

Bowling alley construction was considered "an important facet" of property development in the western United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, described by the LA Times as and "are small cities in themselves", some of which cost tens of millions of dollars (in 1960s dollars). Lesser was considered "the most active in this field", which by 1962 had developed nine bowling alleys. The biggest in size as of 1962 was Parkway Lanes in El Cajon, developed at a cost of $7,796,480 (adjusted for inflation, $1 million 1962) with 60 alleys, 5 acres (20,000 m2) of parking. The facility had "varied entertainment rivaling the best in night clubs", according to the LA Times, with "headliners", such as Louis Prima, Lili St. Cyr, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine, and Roberta Linn appeared at Parkway, developed with Irvin Kahn and George Hirsch. Legion Lanes was developed by Lesser and Ted Bentley into a 44-lane bowling alley from the Hollywood American Legion Stadium boxing arena, at El Centro and Hollywood Blvd., at a $15,592,959 (adjusted for inflation, $2 million in 1962), with architectural firm of William L. Rudolph & Associates, and the Pozzo Construction Company. The facility included a playroom for children, cocktail bar, billiard room, and snack bar. NBC provided its lot for temporary parking during construction, and Milt Enright became manager of the facility. By 1962, Lesser also had planned development of bowling alleys in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, as bowling competed with cricket, soccer, and rugby as national pastimes in these countries. In 1960, Lesser developed a bowling alley in Indio, California, at a cost of $5,847,360 (adjusted for inflation, $750,000 in 1962) with developers Mike Hirsch and Sam Miller. In 1959, Lesser, with John Howard, Jack Helms, Ralph Hirsch, and Edward Tauder developed the (1959 $2million) Santa Monica Civic Lanes in Santa Monica, California, described at the time as the "Beach City" by the Los Angeles Times, also to house the Santa Monica Civic Club, and Samoa Lanes at 5th and Broadway in Santa Monica, both with 24 lanes, "equipped with automated pinsetters, a billiard room, children's playroom, coffee shop, and cocktail lounge".[40][41][42][43][44]

Los Angeles suburban sprawl, development of era-typical tract housing[edit]

Los Angeles sprawled north, east, west, and south. Lesser developed large tracts of homes in all directions. Lesser built tract housing to meet demands of industrial expansion in the Los Angeles area, and the homes were characteristic of the times. Reporting on the large expansion of suburban sprawl into the Conejo Valley, of which Lesser's Casa Conejo project was the largest, The Los Angeles Times reported in 1960 on "ranch style homes" in the Los Angeles area tract housing construction in the early 1960s,[45] with Lesser's Casa Conejo Estates as being "available to veterans and non-veterans" and "located on large lots with ample room [1/3 acres] for pool or tennis court, the new homes have three bedrooms, family room, and two baths. Features include forced air heating (thermostatically controlled), built in gas ranges and ovens, garbage disposals, natural ash kitchen cabinets, aluminum sliding glass doors, acoustic ceilings, louvered bar-type swinging doors to kitchens, Pullmans (small, long, and narrow in architectural design, based on Pullman sleeping car design) with mosaic tile tops in both baths, and composite shingle roofs with heavy shake trim. The homes are near the new Conejo Village Shopping Center, which includes a supermarket, drugstore, bank, restaurant, Conejo Village bowling alley, and a professional building" of 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2).[46][47][48]

Southward sprawl, Torrance Gardens "homes of the future"[edit]

During the post-World War II West Coast housing boom, in 1950 Lesser developed Torrance Gardens, and made $36,758,299 (calculated in current dollars) in sales by 1950. Sales were made to veterans on the "no down payment" terms, prior to government housing credit restrictions being imposed. The development was considered of historic significance for leading the construction of automated "homes of the future" movement, using General Electric's automatic dishwashers and automated garbage disposals, and thermostatic heat controls in every home, in addition to tiled stall showers, upholstered breakfast nooks, and barbecue pits in the backyards. Some of the innovations are now standard in all developments, such as thermostatic climate control, and some are relics of the times, such as upholstered breakfast nooks and backyard barbecues, which are now a subject of environmental concern.[49]

Westward sprawl — Conejo Valley development[edit]

In 1955, Conejo Valley, located west northwest of the San Fernando Valley, containing Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, and Agoura at the time, had a population of 2,000. By January 1, 1960, the population had grown to over 10,000, with Lesser developing 900 homes in the west Conejo Valley, adjacent to the Newbury Park industrial park, in early 1960.[45] Highway 101 running north of the Santa Monica Mountains became the Ventura Freeway in summer of 1960. In 1960, Packard-Bell Electronics and Technology Instrument Corp. moved to Conejo Valley's newly developed industrial parks. California Lutheran College was started, and announcement was made for the planned move of Northrop Institute of Technology, an aeronautical and electrical engineering school with 2,200 students, from its location at the time at Los Angeles International Airport. In 1961, Westland Plastics and Photo Analysis, Inc. moved to the valley, and the radioplane division of Northrop Corp. began construction of a 350,000-square-foot (33,000 m2) facility, to move from its location in Van Nuys, California. Also planning moves to the valley in 1961 were General Telephone Co. and Semtech Corp Conejo Valley had a total population of 2,000 in 1955, and just over 10,000 in 1960. To accommodate the housing demands from the new industries, tract home development intensified, the largest of which was Louis Lesser's Casa Conejo, a development of 1,000 homes, across from the industrial area.[45][50]

Eastward sprawl, Philips Ranch development[edit]

Lesser purchased "the historic Phillips Ranch" southwest of Pomona in 1964, at 2.241 acres (9,070 m2), one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in Los Angeles County. The Ranch was owned by the pioneer Phillips family since 1864. The sale of 5,000 acres (20 km2) of the ranch in 1875 started the City of Pomona. Lesser developed 10,000 housing units in this single project. The land was originally part of a 40,000-acre (160 km2) land grant from Mexico, Rancho San Jose, granted to Ricardo Vejar in 1837, who in 1864 sold to Prussian cowboy immigrant Louis Phillips, who came to California in the gold rush. Lesser's brother Alvin was his director of development at the time, and construction started in 1965. After the Civil War, the Southern Trail from the eastern United States, through Yuma, to the California coast passed through the ranch, and the Philipps Ranch Rubottom Hotel became a Saturday night wild west activity center, with fourteen saloons, and three opium dens for large numbers of settlers, businessmen, and others. Churches, schools, and Pomona College ended the lawless element.[51][52]

Los Angeles high rise construction vs. sprawl[edit]

Lesser came into opposition and development delays when he became an advocate of high rise development,[21] and found himself in opposition to proponents of continued low rise, urban sprawl, as being part of the character of Los Angeles, "cutting off our open views, and, in effect, spitting (on) the city's face". Some architects argued that "high rises represent fairly low taste", and others that "Los Angeles’ character – sprawling as it may be – will be destroyed if we create another hodge podge of high rise like New York. The visible hills will be made of steel and stucco; the sky will hide behind rooftop air conditioners. Men and women will have to walk below in the dark canyons between unnatural megalopolitan mountains."[21]

In 1963, Lesser argued, "many people, especially older people, actually like to be congested. They want to see activity. To challenge the idea of high rise is like saying all automobiles ought to have cranks." It was also thought Los Angeles residents would not rent high rise apartments, or apartments at all. But the high rise concept was successful, the apartments rented out quickly, and by 1963, within two years, area housing starts went from 80% single home dwelling, to 35%.[21] Barrington Plaza was 27 stories, Lesser Towers, 22 stories, and Lesser developed the Braemar-Lesser Towers, a 17 story apartment on the Sunset Strip, with 192 apartments, for $3,466,467 (adjusted for inflation, $4.5 million in 1963).[2]

Barrington Plaza[edit]

Lesser developed Barrington Plaza with Ben C. Deane, as largest urban renewal project in the history of western United States, under the Federal Housing Authority of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Barrington Plaza was the first Los Angeles urban renewal project, and "the highest (apartment) rise in the West".[21] In 1962, the New York Times called Barrington Plaza the largest privately financed apartment project ever built west of Chicago. Development cost was $138,658,696 (adjusted for inflation, $18 million in 1963), with the FHA insuring $128,663,715 (adjusted for inflation, $16,702,500 in 1963). It consisted in a 27 story building, two 17 story buildings, 712 apartments, and Olympic size swimming pool, putting green, and amenities, marketed as an upscale apartment complex, with underground parking, in addition to serving as a nuclear fallout shelter. It occupied 5 acres (20,000 m2), with 4 acres (16,000 m2) devoted to open space.[21] It was considered controversial and risky, since at the time as Californians were considered to "resist apartment dwelling".[2][21] Lesser paid back the FHA loan, the largest of its kind in FHA history, by 1963.[21] Lesser sold the Plaza to Barrington Enterprises in 1965, according to the national labor relations board, after which the project ran into difficulties.[2][6][51][53][54]

Lesser Towers, Sterling Towers, "Rooftop garden" concept[edit]

Lesser developed Lesser Towers, a 22-story building with 236 apartments, beginning in 1963, with an initial development cost of $53,922,826 (adjusted for inflation, $7 million in 1963), completed it in 1966. Development setbacks caused by litigation caused the project to stand idle in the early stages of construction for more than two years. In 1966, a new builder was brought in on the development, Sheldon L. Pollack Corp., which was awarded the contract on a cost-plus basis, with financing through Security First National Bank. The building has historic significance in its design at the time of its conception, as it featured an elaborately landscaped rooftop gardens, in addition to a rooftop swimming pool, gymnasium, and sauna baths.[55] A controversy arose when real estate mogul Donald Sterling changed the name to Sterling Towers, and began to run ads claiming to have developed Sterling Towers, after Los Angeles Times articles in the 1960s stated that Louis Lesser Enterprises developed them.[2][15][55][56]

Restoration of historic buildings[edit]

Lesser collected, restored, and leased historic or award-winning buildings. Lesser purchased the Beckman Instrument Company's Hellpot Plant in Newport, a "prize winning" 15-acre (61,000 m2) facility, for lease to Howard Hughes' Aircraft Company, in a deal for $12 million in 1958 dollars ($98,089,965 today). The Hellspot Plant received awards in design from the American Institute of Architects, with a resort-like three-level building, overlooking Newport Harbor, and with 156,000 square feet (14,500 m2). At the same time as the Hellspot Plant lease, Hughes leased five additional buildings from Lesser, transferring part of Hughes' semi-conductor division to five Lesser buildings in Costa Mesa, for producing germanium and silicon diodes.[57] In 1961 Lesser purchased the historic 1919 skyscraper, the Fulton Fresno Building, originally built by Fresno vintner and winemaker Andrew Mattel. The building was acquired by Bank of America in 1932, purchased from Iris Securities in 1954, then conveyed to Triangle Development, which conveyed it to Lesser the same day. At the time of Lesser's purchase, the building housed Fresno Guarantee Savings & Loan. Lesser fully restored the building to its 1919 condition.[58] Lesser purchased and restored historic buildings in downtown Los Angeles, including the Great Western Savings Building at 706 South Hill St., the Foreman Building at 707 South Hill Street, the Brockman Building at 520 WSest Seventh St., and the McDonald Building at 708 Grand Ave. Lesser developed or restored historic downtown San Diego buildings and hotels, including the California Theater Building at 1122 Fourth Avenue, the First and "C" Building on the northwest corner of First Ave. and C Street, the Robinson Building at 520 East E Street, developed the 355,000-square-foot (33,000 m2) Electronics Capital Building, as well as numerous large San Diego apartments and properties.[22][59][60][61]

"Inland Marinas" concept[edit]

Keyes Marina was of historic note in that it was unconventionally developed one mile (1.6 km) inland from the Pacific Ocean, rather than being on the ocean, in a bay, or on a major navigated waterway.[2] The Keyes Marina project was unique at its time, providing one thousand waterfront homes, each with its own bulkhead and boat mooring, fronting on a 400-foot-wide (120 m) sea water channel leading to the ocean, with an extensive breakwater system at the mouth. The project included a 9-acre (36,000 m2) shopping center, 52 apartment house sites, and 125 public marina boat slips with related commercial and service facilities. The project was located in Costa Mesa, California, and was developed with Paul Snyder[31]

Civil Defense Commissioner, Nuclear Fallout Shelter development[edit]

Lesser was appointed to the Los Angeles County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission in December 1961, an appointment of significance both for being at the peak of the Cold War nuclear scare, and for the potential of a conflict of interest, due to massive government funding for development of nuclear fallout shelters, and Lesser being a developer bidding on the projects proposed. Lesser served on commission with Los Angeles County Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess, Los Angeles Police Chief William H, Parker, and six other members. Lesser buildings were later approved to be nuclear fallout shelters, with local and federal government funding and subsidies for their development. Lesser's proposed Barrington Plaza development was approved as a nuclear fallout shelter by the Board, in addition to receiving the greatest funding support of any western United States Federal Housing Authority urban renewal project under president John F. Kennedy.[53][62][63]

Litigation[edit]

In 1970, Lesser filed suit against Irvin J. Kahn and Rancho Los Penasquitos, Inc. Kahn was San Diego's largest land developer. Lesser alleged that in 1965, he made an oral agreement with Kahn for a half interest in the $100 million ($374,181,626 today) company's 12,000-acre (49 km2) parcel of land in Northern San Diego. Lesser alleged that he arranged for a Teamsters Union pension fund loan to Kahn in 1965 by introducing Kahn to St. Louis attorney Morris Shenker, "at a time Kahn was in dire need of funds to meet financial commitments and recognized that the property that is Los Penasquitos was or would soon be subject to foreclosure". Morris Shenker was known in the press for his work on selling the interest in Las Vegas hotels and casinos of Lesser. Lesser claimed to have learned that the Teamsters Union fund received a 25% interest in Los Penasquitos, in return for the loans. Kahn claimed to have arranged the Teamsters loans himself. Kahn and his companies settled, paying back wages and accepting a permanent injunction against further violations.

In addition to his connections to Lesser and sales of the interests in Las Vegas hotels and casinos, such as the Dunes Hotel, Shenker was in the press for being the chief counsel for Teamster Boss James R. Hoffa ("Jimmy Hoffa"), and for being named chairman of the new St. Louis Crime Commission.

It was later revealed that the 25% interest Lesser claimed was owned by Shenker, who became known as "The Money Mover" following a Los Angeles Times story titled "Morris Shenker: The Money Mover". Lesser had been developing and acquiring historic downtown San Diego buildings and hotels, including the California Theater Building at 1122 Fourth Avenue, the First and "C" Building on the northwest corner of First Ave. and C Street, the Robinson Building at 520 East E Street, and developing the 355,000-square-foot (33,000 m2) Electronics Capital Building, and numerous other large San Diego apartments and properties.[15] The Los Angeles Times reported that "two Las Vegas casino operators appear to be landlords to a group of federal agencies in a downtown San Diego skyscraper", the Charter Oil Building, and that "the title company and the building manager will not tell us who owns it." In its September 13, 1963, audit of Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. for the SEC, Arthur Andersen attributed development and ownership of the Shelter Island Inn to Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc., but on September 20, 1970, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kahn had an interest in the hotel.[15] A May 29, 1970, Life Magazine article on Shenker described him as the "foremost lawyer for the Mob in the U.S." and a brilliant befuddler of Internal Revenue Service investigations into labyrinthine business deals. According to the Los Angeles Times, Shenker first came to national attention in the early 1950s, related to syndicated gambling, where "Shenker represented more of the big time gamblers than any other lawyer. In his complaint, Lesser said that Shenker "was and is now an agent of the (Teamster) fund".[22][60][61]

Tri National Development Corp.[edit]

According to a filing with the SEC, Lesser was a financing and real estate transactions consultant to the Tri National Development Corporation beginning in 1991. On October 23, 2001, Tri National Development Corporation filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court in San Diego, California, to allow the company to remain in possession of its assets and properties, and allow its directors and officers to continue to oversee operation of Registrant's business as a debtor-in-possession, subject to supervision and orders of the Bankruptcy Court of matters outside the ordinary course of business.[16][64]

Controversial partners and development methods[edit]

In 1958, Lesser reportedly developed a housing project under a deal with Prince Kashim Kashani of Iran.[27]

Also in 1958, Lesser reportedly began the construction of a grain warehouse for use by the Mexican Government,[27] at the time when PRI rule was becoming increasingly authoritarian and at times oppressive.[65]

Lesser is also believed to have begun construction of a skyscraper office building in Caracas, Venezuela, to be owned in association with Financiadora Administradora Inmobiliaria,[27][28] S.A., later associated with allegations of Venezuelan government corruption involving its then president at the time, Marcos Pérez Jiménez.[27][28]

Lesser was alleged to have developed over 60,000 homes before current environmental laws were in place, including 100,000 homes at one time in his Phillips Ranch development, on "one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in Los Angeles County".[52]

Lesser leveled an entire small valley to build the Convair Astronautics Division for General Dynamics in San Diego, moving 150,000 cubic yards of soil.[34]

In an article about a number of developers, the Los Angeles Times stated that developers, "recognizing the beauty" of the ancient "gnarled old oak trees", (California live oak, Quercus agrifolia) in the Conejo Valley, preserved them in development, "using them to compliment... development of land", but excluded Lesser from the report.[45]

Lesser's partner in Lesser Diesel Enterprises, was former Stanford University Mathematical Statistician Eric John Diesel.

Recognition for philanthropy and business achievement[edit]

Louis Lesser made gifts to youth, welfare, and religious organizations. Lesser served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the City of Hope. Lesser was a member of the Board of the University of Temple, as well as an active participant in national Jewish Welfare Fund appeals.[11][12][12]

Personality, family and death[edit]

Lesser was born and reared in the Hollywood area.[2]

In 1963, The New York Times described Lesser in its "Personality] section, as "restless, fast-talking" and "one of the more aggressive Western developers currently riding the crest of the real estate boom", "a business executive right out of Hollywood's ‘Hometown Boy Makes Good’", also as having run through several business careers, and in 1963, as "making his bid as a ‘Big Time Real Estate Operator’... although not yet a (William) Zeckendorf, (Del) Webb, or (Paul) Tishman".[2]

Louis Lesser's parents were Russian-Polish Jews who immigrated to America sometime before 1910. His father was in the women's garment business, making lady's coats. Lesser was born in Los Angeles, California.

Lesser's wife was Jeanne Lesser, to whom he was married for 70 years, until her death in 2006. Lesser had a son, Craig Adolph Lesser, and three daughters, Teri (husband Jack Ford), Kathy Sanson, and Francine Keefe.[66] Jeanne Lesser died on November 26, 2006, at the age of 88.[66] Louis Lesser died on January 29, 2013.[67]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Al Johns (March 13, 1960). "The Lesser Side of Making Money: Making money can become a habit". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n New York Times, March 16, 1963, "Personality Boom is Loud for Louis Lesser"
  3. ^ a b c http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewwork.asp?id=35744
  4. ^ Las Vegas County Recorder
  5. ^ Louise Lesser Enterprises, Inc., Annual Report, Arthur Andersen, June 30, 1963[1]
  6. ^ a b "712 Unit Project Finished on Coast". New York Times. September 13, 1962. p. 349. 
  7. ^ "Apartment Approved as Official Fallout Shelter". Los Angeles Times. October 15, 1961. 
  8. ^ "Board Asks Full Study of Shelters". Los Angeles Times. November 15, 1961. 
  9. ^ "Businessman Appointed to Civil Defense Group". Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1961. 
  10. ^ a b c "Firm Occupies Sixth Building in Center". Los Angeles Times. February 10, 1957. 
  11. ^ a b "Louis Lesser of Beverly Hills, partner in the land development and construction firm bearing his name, has been named 'Man of the Year' for 1961 by the City of Hope". Los Angeles Times. March 26, 1961. 
  12. ^ a b c "Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Resolution of Commendation". Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. April 9, 1961. "that Louis Lesser be commended for his many accomplishments in the field of business and philanthropic endeavors" 
  13. ^ Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1950, "Sterling New Head of Sunset Oil Co."
  14. ^ April 9, 1961, Resolution of Commendation by Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles
  15. ^ a b c d e September 13, 1963, Arthur Andersen, Arthur Andersen Co., SEC Audit for American Stock Exchange listing, "Audit of Louis Lesser Enterprises, Inc. 1963 Annual Report"
  16. ^ a b Tri National Development Corp • DEF 14A • For 11/23/99
  17. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, "The Lesser Side of Making Money", March 13, 1960, Al Johns
  18. ^ City of hope honors builder Lou Lesser, Los Angeles Times, Mar 26, 1961
  19. ^ "Another record profit for BHP". ABC News. 2007-08-22. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  20. ^ Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1954, "Subpoena in Quiz Faced by Builder"
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1963, "High Rise Developer Defends Loss of View to Convenience"
  22. ^ a b c Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1970
  23. ^ Louis Lesser Enterprises Annual Report p. 6, Arthur Anderson, [2]
  24. ^ Louis Lesser Enterprises Annual Report p.13, Arthur Anderson, [3]
  25. ^ Louis Lesser Enterprises Annual Report p.14, Arthur Anderson, [4]
  26. ^ Louis Lesser Enterprises Annual Report p.15, Arthur Anderson, [5]
  27. ^ a b c d e Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1958 "Overseas Unit of Construction Company Set"
  28. ^ a b c "The Extradition of Marcos Perez Jimenez, 1959-63: Practical Precedent for Administrative Honesty?", Judith Ewell, Journal of Latin American Studies, 9, 2, 291-313
  29. ^ Los Angeles Times, 10-9-1960, "Shelter Island Result of Man's Ingenuity"
  30. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1964, Tom Cameron, "$118 Million Going Into Expansion at L.A. State"
  31. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1963, "$100 Million Building Program Set by Firm"
  32. ^ Los Angeles Times 1956-10-21 Three Buildings Leased by Firm in New Center
  33. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, 1955-04-10, "New Industrial Tract Slated"
  34. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1959
  35. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1957-06-09, "Indiana Housing Project Awarded to L.A. Firm"
  36. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1959-02-01, "$11 Million Housing Project at Air Force Base Completed"
  37. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1957-07-21, "Floor of New Mart Leased"
  38. ^ From "Babies Equal Boom, New York Post, May 4, 1951.
  39. ^ a b c Los Angeles Times, 1959-12-13, "War Babies to Bring Big Boom"
  40. ^ LAT 1959-01-25 2 Million Program Set for Santa Monica
  41. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1960-01-03, "Indio Bowling Alley Rising"
  42. ^ LAT, 1960-08-28, "NOTED BOXING ARENA NOW BOWLING CENTER"
  43. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1962-07-08, "Bowling Right Up Developers Alley"
  44. ^ LAT, 1960-04-24, "Bowling Alley, Parkway Lanes"
  45. ^ a b c d Los Angeles Times, 1960-02-14, "FIELDS, HILLS GIVE WAY TO HOMES"
  46. ^ Los Angeles Times 1960-07-10 "Conejo Valley Homes Offered"
  47. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1960-11-27, Down Payment Set at $295 Dollars"
  48. ^ Los Angeles Times 1961-04-16 Homes and Industry Come to Conejo Valley
  49. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1950, "Active Week Puts Tract's Sales Past $3,750,000"
  50. ^ Los Angeles Times, 1961-04-16, "Homes and Industry Come to Conejo Valley"
  51. ^ a b 470 F2d 669 National Labor Relations Board v. Tragniew Inc Tragniew Inc, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, September 8, 1972
  52. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1964, "Historic Ranch to Be Big Community"
  53. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, Oct 15, 1961
  54. ^ "one of the largest F.H.A. insured projects ever constructed"
  55. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1966
  56. ^ Los Angeles Times, Friday, November 13, 2009, page B6, lower right quarter page
  57. ^ Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1958, "Beckman Instrument Plant at Newport Sold"
  58. ^ Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1961
  59. ^ Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1963
  60. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1970, Al Delugach, "Morris Shenker: The Money Mover"
  61. ^ a b Life Magazine, May 29, 1970
  62. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1961 "Businessman Appointed to CD Group"
  63. ^ Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1961 "Board Asks Full Study of Shelters"
  64. ^ FORM 8-K
  65. ^ Foreign Affairs, January–February 2006, Enrique Krauze, "Furthering Democracy in Mexico"
  66. ^ a b Jewish Journal, December 14, 2006, Obituaries
  67. ^ "Obituaries". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 

External links[edit]