Pozzo Firm Nearing 90th Year

Times Staff Writer

Pozzo Construction Co.--a venerable Southland builder--first hung its shingle in 1898 on a three-story wooden building at Macy and Clara streets.

The modest structure that also served as living quarters for the Pozzo family--newcomers to Los Angeles along with other settlers who helped form the core of the business community that thrived in the early Plaza area around Olvera Street.

"Eventually, you could look to the north, south, east or west of Los Angeles and see a Pozzo-built structure," said Louis P. Pozzo, the firm's chairman emeritus.

"Our company built many of the early landmark buildings throughout the city, including the foundation for Los Angeles City Hall."

The four-generation, family-run business, which last year became a wholly owned subsidiary of Blount Bros. Corp. of Montgomery, Ala. (a Blount Inc. company), is operated by Pozzo's son, Victor, the president, and a nephew, Emile Pozzo St. Geme, executive vice president.

The 75-year-old Louis Pozzo, affectionately known to co-workers as Papa Luigi, is a deeply religious man with consummate pride in his Italian heritage and in the standards of craftsmanship passed down by forebears rooted in the building trade for about 300 years in Italy's Piedmont region, north of Turin.

A USC alumnus later honored as a USC Man of the Year, Pozzo served on the university's board of governors, and was also affiliated with UCLA as a member of the Dean's Council of the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. He is particularly proud of having been selected for the Plastering Institute's Man of the Year and Golden Trowel awards.

"I am told I lay too much stress on tradition," he said, "but Pozzo Construction Co. is what it is today because each generation of Pozzo builders has pledged to uphold our firm's standards of honesty, integrity and responsibility."

He said the founder of the business in the New World was his grandfather, Pietro Eusebio Pozzo, a young immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island in 1880. In 1882, he established P. E. Pozzo & Sons in New York, and began building small post office and train station structures.

Later, Secondo Guasti, a compatriot of his grandfather and already a successful vintner in Cucamonga, persuaded him to move with his family to California--a land of opportunity that Italian immigrants had nicknamed 'New Italy' because of the Golden State's Mediterranean climate, the builder said.

In Los Angeles, Guasti (who was already producing more than 400,000 gallons of wine), introduced Pietro Pozzo to the manager of the International Bank (located at Temple and Main streets, near Los Angeles' central plaza), and Pozzo negotiated a loan for $3,000 to establish his own firm, in 1898.

"My grandfather, who had very little money, offered three sons as collateral, assuring the banker that they were worthy assets--all three well-educated, talented and hard-working. The banker approved the loan based on a value of $1,000 for each son," Louis Pozzo said.

His father, Emilio, had a degree in architecture and engineering from Cooper Union Institute before heading west with the family.

Within 15 years, Pozzo Construction Co. had built 314 buildings in Los Angeles, including French Hospital and the Italian Hall (the Garibaldi Hall) at Main and Macy streets.

Pozzo said his father met his mother, Carolina Maria Ferrante, when she was 17 years of age and living in an apartment above La Golondrina restaurant on Olvera Street (then known as Calle de las Vinas).

"That area was populated primarily by Italian, French, Yugoslavian, Mexican and Chinese merchants and their families," he said.

The Italians cultivated the lands around Los Angeles and introduced bell peppers, eggplant, artichokes and broccoli to the community, and were productive ranchers, orchardists and vintners, Pozzo said.

The Pozzos worked with some of the Southland's most famous architects, such as Claude Beelman, Charles Luckman, A. C. Martin, William Pereira, George G. Adams, Gene Verge Sr., Douglas Honnold, Morgan, Walls & Clements, as well as John W. Maloney of Seattle.

Diverse projects included primarily on hospitals, schools, churches, laboratories, banks and airport complexes.

Hospitals built by the firm include the original unit and subsequent restoration of the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Los Angeles, the major addition to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and the later construction stages of St. Mary's Medical Center.

Most of the major California Federal Savings & Loan buildings were built by Pozzo Construction Co., including its recently built computer center in Rosemead.

Other landmark structures are Lockheed Corporate headquarters in Calabasas, Avery International World Headquarters in Pasadena, the Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles and Union Oil Research Center in Brea.

St. Basil's Roman Catholic Church on Wilshire Boulevard between Harvard Boulevard and Kingsley Avenue remains the firm's most challenging and one of its most special projects, according to St. Geme.

"It is truly an architectural and construction accomplishment," he said. "The church actually consists of 12 separate building units linked together by art glass, supporting a common roof."

The church's concrete walls had to be sandblasted and bush-hammered by hand to look like weathered medieval material, St. Geme explained.

Louis Pozzo has never forgotten the words of his grandfather.

"He used to tell us that anyone can put up a frame, but what the human eye sees, the finished work, is what counts--beautiful plaster work, fine woodcarving, precise mitering."

Victor Pozzo's responsibilities as president focus on other industry considerations that have become critical to every assignment, in addition to the quality factor--namely the importance of in-budget and on-time completion of new projects.

"Both in the financial and technical sectors, we have to be sensitive to the demands placed upon an owner resulting from a high cost of financing and construction," he said.

"We are selected at the onset to act as the owners' representatives, and we literally join forces with architect and owner early in the design stages and add our expertise in the areas of construction techniques, management and costs.

"At present, 95% of all our jobs are negotiated, and I spend a great deal of my time crystal-balling in an attempt to view the state of the economy two years hence, so that we may establish project budgets, accurate schedules and provide guaranteed prices or identify alternative solutions before committing to a particular design."

With headquarters at 2894 Rowena Ave. since 1975, Pozzo Construction continues to add to its inventory of more than 350 buildings that are still a part of the Los Angeles cityscape.

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