Louis Lesser

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Louis Lesser
Born(1916-06-15)June 15, 1916
Los Angeles, California, United States
DiedJanuary 29, 2013(2013-01-29) (aged 96)
OccupationReal estate developer
Spouse(s)Jeanne Lesser
ChildrenCraig Adolphe Lesser
Cathy J. Lesser
Therese Ann Lesser
Francine S. Lesser

Louis Lesser (June 15, 1916 – January 29, 2013) was an American businessman. He developed property across the United States, predominantly around the Los Angeles area; he also purchased and managed property. He developed Barrington Plaza, at the time the largest privately built apartment development in the western United States.

Early life[edit]

Lesser was born and raised in Los Angeles, California,[1] to a Jewish family.[2] He attended Hollywood High School and was very successful at making extra money selling magazines. On graduation, he turned down a supervisory job offer from the magazine company, instead joining his father's women's clothing manufacturing business.[3]

Business career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Whilst working in his father's women's clothing business, Lesser addressed the lack of merchandising and enlarged the business through bulk sales to volume dealers.[3] He left in 1945, when he was drafted into the army.[4] After he came out of service, in 1947 he purchased ranches which produced meat and fruit in anticipation of the removal of WWII price ceilings on fruit, profiting when they were just five days after the purchase. A couple of years later he sold the ranches and purchased a group of gas stations and associated businesses. His self-service stations were ultimately merged with the Sunset Oil Company, where he served briefly as vice-president until his retirement aged 36.[1][3] Concurrent with his gas station business, in 1950-51 he was involved in Torrance Gardens, a 437 unit real estate development venture in Torrance, California.[5][6][7]

Louis Lesser Enterprises[edit]

His retirement in 1952 lasted less than a year.[1] Later in 1952, Louis Lesser Enterprises started trading as a partnership buying, developing and selling real estate.[8] It incorporated in 1960/61,[8] in preparation for a $5 million public flotation in 1962/63. By that time, Lesser estimated that he had developed $500 million of real estate across nine states and that Louis Lesser Enterprises had grown its assets from $200,000 to $60 million.[1]

Lesser made use of the Capehart Act to secure funding to build housing for military personnel, developing over 3,000 units at 14 military installations across the US, with a total construction value of $35 million.[9] He developed an industrial centre near the Los Angeles International Airport in 1956-1957, leasing buildings worth $9 million.[10][11] He began development of another $7.5 million extension to a Convair site in San Diego in 1959, also to be leased to the company.[12] He purchased the Beckman Instrument Plant at Newport Beach, worth over $12 million, in 1958, and leased it to the Hughes Aircraft Company.[13]

In 1959, he was brought in as a partner in Ben Deane's Barrington Plaza development, subsequently becoming the sole sponsor and buying out Deane in June 1961.[14] The plaza was completed in 1962, and comprised 712 apartments in one 27 and two 17 story buildings, making it both the largest,[15] and the tallest,[16] privately built apartment complex west of Chicago. The original application for a $14 million Federal Housing Administration loan was described as the largest single application for an insurance commitment under the urban renewal program ever filed in the United States;[17] the actual initial loan was $15.2 million towards the end of 1959.[18]

Along with San Diego developer Irvin Kahn, in 1960 he developed two motels on the Shelter Island reclamation project costing $5.7 million.[19] He participated the 1961 Casa Conejo development, in the Conejo Valley, and was the largest developer there, building 1,000 homes.[20] In association with Irvin Kahn, and others, Lesser was heavily involved in developing bowling complexes in California, with the Los Angeles Times suggesting that he was the most active developer in this area by 1962.[21]

In 1964, he developed an $118 million off-campus student residential center for California State University, Los Angeles, which housed over 3000 students.[22]

He initiated a 22-story, 236 unit apartment structure named "Lesser Towers",[23] in 1962,[24] when it was budgeted to cost $7 million.[1] Development setbacks caused by litigation caused the project to stand idle in the early stages of construction for more than three years. In 1965, a new builder was brought in to finish development.[25][26]

Lesser purchased the Phillips Ranch near Pomona in 1964 for $17.5 million. At 2,241 acres, it was one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in Los Angeles County. He intended to build 10,000 homes over five years, with planning to be completed by the end of the year.[27]

Following two years of losses, Lesser resigned as chairman of Louis Lesser Enterprises in 1967 and accepted a bailout from Henry Salvatori, at which point the company was renamed Western Orbis Company.[28]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Jeanne Lesser, from sometime before 1945,[4] until her death in 2006.[29] They had four children, Craig, Therese, Kathy and Francine.[30]

Lesser died on 29 January 2013.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Personality: Boom is Loud for Louis Lesser". New York Times. 16 March 1963.
  2. ^ a b "Obituaries". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. 28 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b c "DOWN TO EARTH: The Lesser Side of Making Money". Los Angeles Times. 13 March 1960.
  4. ^ a b "Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 - 1946 (Enlistment Records)". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  5. ^ "$5½ Million New Home Tract Started Here" (PDF). Torrance Herald. 13 July 1950.
  6. ^ "Active Week Puts Tract's Sales Past $3,750,000". Los Angeles Times. 17 December 1950.
  7. ^ "LESSER v. COMMISSIONER Docket No. 63975". United States Tax Court. Leagle. 31 May 1960.
  8. ^ a b "Securities and Exchange Commission News Digest" (PDF). U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 6 April 1962. p. 6.
  9. ^ "Indiana Housing Project Awarded to L.A. Firm". Los Angeles Times. 9 June 1957.
  10. ^ "FIRM OCCUPIES SIXTH BUILDING IN CENTER". Los Angeles Times. 10 February 1957.
  11. ^ "FIRM OCCUPIES SIXTH BUILDING IN CENTER". Los Angeles Times. 10 February 1957.
  12. ^ "$7.S MILLION PROJECT". Los Angeles Times. 25 October 1959.
  13. ^ "Beckman Instrument Plant at Newport Sold". Los Angeles Times. 3 October 1958.
  14. ^ Investigation into FHA multiple dwelling projects: Hearings, Eighty-ninth Congress, second session. U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations: Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. 1966. p. 99.
  15. ^ "712-UNIT PROJECT FINISHED ON COAST". New York Times. 23 September 1962.
  16. ^ "Everything Is 'Go' at Barrington Plaza". Los Angeles Times. 16 September 1962.
  17. ^ "$14 Million Loan Application for West Side Project Filed". Los Angeles Times. 5 April 1959.
  18. ^ "Senate Panel to Investigate U.S.-Insured Housing Units". New York Times. 23 August 1966.
  19. ^ "Shelter Island Result of Man's Ingenuity". Los Angeles Times. 9 October 1960.
  20. ^ "Homes and Industry Come to Conejo Valley". Los Angeles Times. 16 April 1961.
  21. ^ "Bowling Right Up Developers' Alley". Los Angeles Times. 8 July 1962.
  22. ^ "$118 Million Going Into Expansion at L.A. State". Los Angeles Times. 15 March 1964.
  23. ^ "22-STORY APARTMENT NEARING COMPLETION". Los Angeles Times. 18 September 1966.
  24. ^ "22-STORY APARTMENT SLATED FOR WILSHIRE". Los Angeles Times. 24 June 1962.
  25. ^ "Construction Resumes on Lesser Towers". Los Angeles Time. 20 February 1966.
  26. ^ "22-STORY APARTMENT NEARING COMPLETION". Los Angeles Times. 18 September 1966.
  27. ^ "Historic Ranch to Be Big Community". Los Angeles Times. 15 November 1964.
  28. ^ "San Diego Developer Sued by Louis Lesser". Los Angeles Times. 27 February 1970.
  29. ^ "Obituaries". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. 14 December 2006.
  30. ^ "Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit". CourtListener. 6 December 1965.

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