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Ezat Delijani dies at 83; L.A. philanthropist

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Ezat Delijani, a real estate magnate and philanthropist who bought four historic theaters on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles and spent millions in maintaining and upgrading them over the years, including restoring the Palace Theatre to its opulent former glory, has died. He was 83.

Delijani, a respected leader in the local Iranian Jewish community, died Saturday at his Beverly Hills home of complications of lymphoma, said his son Shahram.

The Iranian-born Delijani was a pioneer in trade between his country and Japan and a successful real estate investor before fleeing Iran in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After settling in Los Angeles with his wife and four children, he quickly established himself as a local real estate investor.

The founder of Delson Investment Co., he was known for his leadership role in expanding the downtown jewelry district and establishing the downtown garment district.

Concerned about Iranian immigrants not having jobs when they arrived in Los Angeles, Delijani set up small retail shops for them in the garment district, his son said.

In 1982, then-Mayor Tom Bradley asked Delijani to buy the ornate 1931 Los Angeles Theatre to save it from demolition.

"When he first walked in, he was absolutely blown away by the beauty and knew he had to save the theater," Shahram Delijani said. "But also, my dad just had a really strong sense of civic duty. He was really always so thankful for this country taking us in and giving him the opportunity to restart and rebuild."

Delijani later purchased three other Broadway movie theaters: the Palace, State and Tower theaters.

"Mr. Delijani understood that the magnificent Broadway theatres really belong to us all," Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, said in an email Monday. "He wanted these movie palaces to survive for future generations to enjoy, and he fostered this vision among his family, who now carries on his tradition of stewardship."

Delijani was actively involved in Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's Bringing Back Broadway, a historic preservation, economic development and revitalization initiative kicked off in 2008 at the Los Angeles Theatre.

"If it wasn't for Ezat Delijani, some of Los Angeles' most treasured historic theaters would have been destroyed a long time ago," Huizar said in an email.

In 2009, the intersection of 7th Street and Broadway was formally dedicated Ezat Delijani Square.

A former president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, Delijani negotiated the federation's purchase of Hollywood Temple Beth El in 1998.

In 2004, Delijani received the Tree of Life award from the Jewish National Fund for his years of service as a community leader and for his charitable contributions.

Delijani was born Feb. 24, 1928, in Tehran. After graduating from Tehran University School of Law with honors, he joined his father in the family textile business.

"He took his father's business to whole other levels," Shahram Delijani said. "He was responsible for importing 80% of raw textiles from Japan to Iran.

"The most important thing he did for Iran's economy, he persuaded the Japanese to give Iran their critical weaving techniques and machinery. With that, Iran was able to create textiles of high quality and compete in the world market."

The well-connected Delijani contributed to many politicians over the years.

In late 2010, he unexpectedly found his name in the news when a Times investigation revealed that L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who had received contributions and gifts from Delijani, had launched a criminal investigation into an alleged forgery on a lease document by one of Delijani's tenants.

The sheriff's investigation, which was launched after Shahram Delijani informed Baca that the Beverly Hills Police Department had declined to investigate, was assigned a high-priority "rush" status.

Baca denied that he had given Delijani special treatment, and he also denied that Delijani's contributions and gifts of wine and liquor influenced him in any way.

Prosecutors in October 2009 reportedly declined to file charges after the sheriff's investigation, citing a lack of evidence. But after an appeal from the Sheriff's Department, prosecutors reversed their initial decision and filed a forgery charge against Delijani's tenant in late 2010.

Shahram Delijani said a civil jury in 2010 unanimously decided that the signature on the lease document that was purported to be Ezat Delijani's was not authentic.

Besides his son Shahram, Delijani is survived by his wife, Nahid; his other sons, Michael and Ramin; his daughter, Mehrnaz Khakshouri; three sisters; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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