A Japanese real estate company that emerged last summer as the mystery investor in the Riviera Country Club completed purchase Thursday of the landmark 168-acre golf and tennis resort in Pacific Palisades amid reports that club members' uneasiness over the firm's secretiveness has abated.
Marukin Shoji Ltd. of Tokyo said it will pay slightly more than $55 million in cash for the remaining 51% interest in the country club. Last August, Marukin paid $52.9 million for a 49% interest in the country club partnership--which consists of Laaco Ltd. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Riviera Country Club Inc.
"We value and respect the current club members and have assured them of our intention to operate these clubs as first-class facilities," Kaneo Watanabe, the 70-year-old president of Marukin, said in a statement released Thursday.
No Public Comment
Kaneo Watanabe and his son, Noburo Watanabe, 44, established Marukin in 1969. The family originally operated a textile business in the Yamanashi area near Mt. Fuji before developing its Tokyo-based real estate, construction and engineering company, which has assets of more than $1 billion.
The country club purchase is the first American business venture for the Watanabes, who are avid golfers. But, according to sources close to the talks, the transaction was handled in the more formal business style of Tokyo rather than in the more laid-back style of Los Angeles.
Marukin officials, for example, allegedly spent weeks searching stores for just the right items to fulfill the Japanese business tradition of giving small gifts to thank business associates. They huddled for weeks over the precise wording of the public statement they would make about the sale and then closely supervised the Japanese-to-English translation when they sent the statement to Los Angeles. And Marukin and Laaco agreed that officials from neither company would talk publicly about the sale after it was announced Thursday.
This kind of business approach initially ignited concern among club members a year ago when Laaco announced that it sold the entire 62-year-old club for $108 million to an unidentified Japanese firm. Laaco refused to give any details, causing an uproar among the club's 635 members, which include some of Southern California's prominent business executives.
Club members, who pay a $25,000 initiation fee and at least $3,870 in annual dues, said they feared that the club would be made into a commercial development, that some members would be forced out or that dues would be raised.
Concerns Have Eased
But Joseph R. Rosenberg, chairman of Riviera's Board of Governors, said members' concerns have since subsided.
"I've had conversations and private meetings with (club) officials and there is every indication that (the sale) will sit well with the membership," said Rosenberg, noting that Marukin has indicated that it plans to upgrade facilities and restrict membership because of concerns that there was too much wear and tear on the golf course.
"The members support those types of moves," Rosenberg said. "I'd be very surprised if the members of the club did not hold them (Marukin) in high regard."
Frank Hathaway, general partner of Laaco, declined to comment on the sale. But in an interview with The Times in December he said members had become more comfortable with the club's new owner.
"We think that the members who have had an opportunity to meet with them (Marukin) are quite pleased," Hathaway said. "They've discovered that these people love golf. What is happening is that when people get to know these folks, they're becoming quite friendly to them."
Laaco Ltd. is a limited partnership that owns the Los Angeles Athletic Club and the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey.