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TV Host Successful as Builder : Art Linkletter’s Second Career

Times Staff Writer

Art Linkletter is alive and well at 75 and building in Santa Monica.

Building? Few fans recognize the amiable TV and radio star of more than 45 years as a builder, but “Link,” as his friends call him, is almost as much at home on a construction site as he was on NBC’s “People are Funny” or CBS’s “House Party,” which stopped broadcasting in 1969.

“I was on ‘House Party’ for 26 years and ‘People Are Funny’ for 19,” he reminisced in his Beverly Hills office. Linkletter has been active in construction for about 20 years.

“It all started when I worked as a headliner at the Phoenix State Fair,” he recalled. “I used to stay at an outlying resort, and a helicopter flew me in (for the performances).

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“From the air, I saw some strange buildings that looked like 40 to 100 attached garages. When I asked what they were, I was told they were for self-storage.

Built Storage Facilities

“I came back to California and said, ‘We should be in that business.’ ”

He had built some houses--"so many for $27,000 each that are now selling for $300,000 to $400,000, it breaks my heart.”

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But after that Phoenix trip, he and his son, Jack, formed a partnership that has since built a couple dozen self-storage facilities from Riverside to the Pacific Ocean and Irvine to Santa Barbara.

During the ‘60s, the partners built for themselves, but in the ‘70s, they started building self-storage and small office and industrial projects for others as well.

They are about to break ground on a $2-million, 432-car parking structure for an auto dealer in Irvine, and as soon as they get financing, they will start work on a $3.1-million, 81-unit Best Western motel in San Clemente.

“None of our projects is tremendous in size,” the former TV host said. “Most are like the one on Montana.”

It’s a $4-million, 2-story, 23,000-square-foot retail/office building that Linkletter Construction is building on the northeast corner of Montana Avenue and 11th Street in Santa Monica for a partnership headed by shopping-center developer Steven Soboroff.

“Ours is purely a construction job on Montana,” Linkletter said, “but we are also developers and property managers, and we do some designing and pre-construction value engineering.”

Owned 70 Companies

Headed by Bill Gray, a 31-year construction veteran, Linkletter Construction is one of several entities under Linkletter Enterprises, overseen by son Jack from offices in Costa Mesa. Other entities are Linkletter Properties & Property Management and Link Properties. Altogether, they have about 100 employees.

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“We had a mobile storage company with 750 steel containers stacked five high that we would put on people’s properties for temporary storage,” the elder Linkletter said, “but we sold that company in December.” It was formed in 1985.

Altogether, he figures he has owned 70 companies in his lifetime. With some business associates, he just began an asbestos-removal firm in Oklahoma City that, he says, should be continuing for the next 25 years.

“And I’m still doing a lot of oil and gas exploration. We just made a big discovery in Bakersfield.”

He also owns a lot of real estate. He and Lois, his wife of 52 years, have a house on top of a mountain in Bel-Air “on 5 acres overlooking the city.”

And he still owns several thousand acres in Australia, where he was a pioneer in sheep and cattle stations.

Skiing and Scuba

He plans to fly there at the end of this month to open the Brisbane Expo as commissioner general. “I was skiing 2 days ago at Vail,” he said, “and soon, I’ll be scuba diving on the Barrier Reef.

“Retire? If you retire, you can’t ever have a day off.”

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But Link doesn’t have many days off.

His 20th book, “Old Age is Not for Sissies,” was just published. (“Did you know that the second wealthiest group in America are people aged 65 to 75, because 73% of them live in homes that these people own free and clear?”)

He travels 250,000 miles a year, making appearances at ground breakings and openings for client developers (“I have one client who opened 57 hospitals in the past 3 1/2 years”) and speaking (“I lecture 80 to 90 times a year”), often as part of his crusade against drug abuse, which began in 1969 following his daughter Diane’s drug-related death.

Giving Advice

When in town, he wears his hat as chairman of Linkletter Enterprises. As such, he might be found giving advice to his son, Jack, (“He’s 50 and a grandfather, which makes me a great-grandfather”) or Jack’s son, Michael, who just went to work for the Linkletter companies. The advice? It could be: Buy real estate.

“I’m a big real estate guy,” he said. “I like real estate. I think it’s a great source of wealth.

“As long as you’re not leveraged out too far and can stand the dips--the ‘yo-yoing'--you can do well, especially in the West.”

Linkletter Enterprises is practicing what he preaches.

“Right now, we’re buying ranches (in Central California),” he said. “We jazz them up and sell them.”


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