City National’s Bram Goldsmith dies at 93

Bram Goldsmith of City National Bank, at its headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on May 11, 2012.

Bram Goldsmith of City National Bank, at its headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on May 11, 2012.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Bram Goldsmith, a builder and banker who helped turn City National Bank into Los Angeles’ biggest and glitziest lender, died Sunday. He was 93.

Goldsmith ran the institution, known as the “bank to the stars,” as chairman and chief executive for 20 years until his son, Russell, took over as chief executive in 1995. The elder Goldsmith stayed on as chairman until 2013.

“My father was a remarkable man, truly one of a kind,” Russell Goldsmith said in a statement Monday. “He accomplished an enormous amount during his long and rewarding life.”

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City National said Goldsmith died of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home.


During his tenure as chief executive, City National grew its assets from $600 million to more than $3 billion. By the time he stepped down as chairman, the bank’s assets topped $27 billion.

My father was a remarkable man, truly one of a kind. He accomplished an enormous amount during his long and rewarding life.

— Russell Goldsmith, son

Goldsmith was rewarded handsomely for the bank’s success. A pay package linked to the performance of City National stock made Goldsmith one of the nation’s highest-paid bankers. In 1984, he made $3.1 million – a pittance compared to the pay packages of today’s bank chiefs, but enough back then to top the combined pay of the CEOs of the nation’s three biggest banks.

In a 2012 profile, Goldsmith told The Times he had a basic approach to banking rooted in conservative lending and in treating customers with respect.

“If they’re entitled to a loan the officers should lend them money, and if they’re not entitled they shouldn’t lend them money,” he said. “But you treat them as good customers. And we have always done precisely that – give people the courtesy of respecting them.”

The bank had an association with Hollywood long before he took over in 1975. Most famously, one of its earliest customers was Frank Sinatra, who relied on the bank for the $240,000 demanded of the singer when his son was kidnapped in 1963.

Goldsmith attributed the bank’s success to its willingness to provide concierge service, especially to its roster of celebrity clients and to the lawyers, managers and accountants who handle celebrities’ finances. Entertainment has always been a focus for City National, which still has clients in the film, music and theater business.

Among its clients over the years were Mary Tyler Moore’s production company, Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It also financed, among other films, the L.A. sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.”

Born in Chicago in 1923, Goldsmith came to banking as a second career. He started out in the construction business, first in Chicago and then in Southern California after moving west in 1952.

In L.A., he and a partner ran development firm Buckeye Construction, which built dozens of office buildings in L.A. and Beverly Hills.

Goldsmith’s father-in-law, Ben Maltz, was among City National’s founders and Buckeye was a longtime City National client.

In 1975, Goldsmith bought out bank chairman Alfred S. Hart and took control of the bank. Goldsmith would remain the bank’s chairman for 38 years.

Long the largest bank headquartered in Los Angeles, City National was sold last year for $5 billion to Toronto’s Royal Bank of Canada. The bank remains based in downtown Los Angeles, and Russell Goldsmith is still chief executive.

Along with his roles at City National, Goldsmith worked with numerous philanthropies in Los Angeles, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the L.A. Philharmonic Assn.

Goldsmith is survived by his wife, Elaine; sons Russell and Bruce and five grandchildren.

Twitter: @jrkoren


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