Sydney Irmas; Art Collector, Benefactor


Sydney Irmas, attorney and investor, art collector, community leader and philanthropist who aided cultural institutions and youth groups, died Thursday at age 71.

Irmas died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications of leukemia, said his daughter, Deborah Irmas.

“He really was a model of civic contribution on many fronts,” said Richard Koshalek, director of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, after learning of Irmas’ death. “He provided support for a wide variety of causes from the religious to the cultural, like MOCA, to the social in helping the homeless. He felt very strongly that you must give back to the city in which you live. People like Syd Irmas are truly irreplaceable in the life of Los Angeles.”

Irmas and his wife, Audrey, who is president-elect of MOCA, last year donated $3 million to the museum as part of an endowment to support its continuing work. Koshalek said Irmas, himself very creative, not only appreciated art but was very supportive of artists and enjoyed personal contact with them.


The Irmas couple donated much of their own notable collection of contemporary art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992. Two years later, LACMA exhibited 140 of the works as “The Camera I: Photographic Self-Portraits From the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.”

The display included photos of and by artistic photographers ranging from chemist Alphonse-Louis Poitevin in 1853 to Robert Mapplethorpe in 1988. Among other self-portraits in the collection were those of Andy Warhol, Lee Friedlander and Edward Steichen.

Times art critic Christopher Knight termed the “Camera I” collection “remarkable for the full sweep of photographic history implied in its contents.”

Irmas was active in housing the homeless throughout Los Angeles. He chaired the city’s blue ribbon committee on affordable housing and the resulting Los Angeles Family Housing Corp., which builds or rehabilitates housing for low-income families.


He and his foundation also gave a helping hand to youths throughout the city, providing athletic equipment or facilities in South-Central Los Angeles and through the Canoga Park youth program Keep Youth Doing Something.

Another beneficiary was the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, which received an Irmas grant to fund its homeless mobile care project.

Irmas learned much about both investing and philanthropy from his father, Sydney M. Irmas Sr., a co-founder and chairman of the Slavick Jewelry Co. and a co-founder of the Big Brothers in Los Angeles.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Irmas is survived by two sons, Robert and Matthew; a sister, Jon Lappen; a brother, Richard, and four grandchildren.

Funeral services are planned for noon Sunday at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made either to the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus of that temple or to Los Angeles Family Housing.