1928 commercial building in Beverly Hills fetches $11.75 million


An 85-year-old Beverly Hills building erected in the golden age of Hollywood by movie mogul Jack Warner has been sold for $11.75 million to a local investor.

The two-story structure that curves along Little Santa Monica Boulevard downtown at North Beverly Drive is one of the oldest commercial properties in the city, real estate broker Mark Esses said. Warner built the 11,000-square-foot building in 1928 to house the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.

The young city had yet to open a public library, The Times reported early in 1929, but one was being planned. A post office was also in the works, and by the mid-1930s the city had both. Beverly Hills’ landmark Spanish Renaissance-style City Hall opened in 1932.


Warner, the president of Warner Bros. Studios, was one of many Hollywood luminaries who brought glamour to Beverly Hills after Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford built their legendary Pickfair estate there in 1919. Warner’s estate on Angelo Drive was larger than Pickfair and had a nine-hole golf course.

“Back then, Jack Warner was a king,” said Esses of California Realty Group.

The seller of the former Chamber of Commerce building, now known as the Marian Building, was Byer Properties of San Francisco, Esses said. Marian is the first name of the wife of Byer family patriarch Allan Byer, owner of clothing manufacturer Byer California and part owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

The buyer was Behruz “Bruce” Gabbai, according to public records and real estate data provider CoStar group. The Beverly Hills resident was a founder of wholesale supply company Four Seasons General Merchandise Inc. of Los Angeles.

A Johnny Rockets diner on the ground floor has closed and will be replaced with a “well known” restaurant, Esses said.

There were multiple bidders for the property, and the price surpassing $1,000 a square foot is one of the highest in recent memory, he said. Pre-recession prices in Beverly Hills topped out around $500 a square foot.

“There are not many boutique buildings from the late 1920s left in Beverly Hills,” Esses said. “Maybe just a handful.”


Downey firm rushing to get N.J. casino ready for tourist season

The low-profile Downey company that is buying the aging landmark Trump Plaza hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J., for a bargain-basement $20 million is scrambling to improve the place and get a gaming license in time for the warm-weather tourist season, a company executive said.

The Meruelo Group, which got its start selling pizzas in Latino neighborhoods in Southern California, has expanded into numerous businesses, including construction, engineering, real estate and private equity. Now it intends to become a player in the gaming industry, President Xavier Gutierrez said.

The acquisition of Trump Plaza was announced last week and is expected to close in May.

Meruelo Group already owns the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno, which has helped prepare the company to take on the challenge of restoring Trump Plaza’s luster, Gutierrez said.

Long-term improvements could cost $100 million. Changes might include connecting the property to a nearby open-air outlet mall and making it over with an Asian theme.

“The Trump name has to come off this year,” Gutierrez said, but a new name has yet to be selected.

Developer Donald Trump built the 900-room hotel and casino at a cost of $210 million and opened it to fanfare in 1984. It struggled in recent years despite its central spot on the famous Boardwalk and has been one of the worst-performing casinos in Atlantic City in terms of revenue.

Troubled properties in prime locations are at the top of the Meruelo Group’s shopping list, Gutierrez said. The company’s strategy is to invest in physical improvements and endeavor to improve operations to create profits. In New Jersey, the company has to decide quickly what to do first to make Trump Plaza better this spring.

“We’re trying to figure out how to get the biggest bang for our buck in the next 90 days,” he said.

Atlantic City has suffered from the rise of competition from Indian casinos and other gambling outlets, but Gutierrez predicts the city will come back into favor.

“It’s a great destination getaway” for New Yorkers and other Easterners, he said. “There are still very few places where you can go to casinos on the seaside.”

O.C.’s largest apartment complex is set to open

Orange County’s largest developer is about to open Orange County’s largest apartment complex.

The Irvine Co. will open the first phase of Los Olivos Apartment Village on March 2. The 1,750-unit complex is connected by a walkway to Irvine Spectrum Center, a regional mall and entertainment center developed by the Irvine Co.

Los Olivos is built in early California architecture and has six saltwater swimming pools, four fitness centers and a central “great lawn,” the company said. The entire complex will be complete by the end of next year. Rents will range from $1,650 to $2,950 a month.

As Orange County renters know well, nine of the 10 largest apartment complexes in Orange County are owned by the Irvine Co.