Real estate tycoon Jona Goldrich, a Holocaust survivor who came to Southern California with $50 in his pocket and went on to help transform downtown Los Angeles and Marina del Rey, has died. He was 88.
Goldrich passed away Sunday of natural causes, his family said.
He leaves behind a real estate empire of 211 properties across the state, primarily in Southern California – including government-assisted housing, senior-living facilities and marinas – according to David Rochkind, chief operating officer of the Goldrich Family Office.
Goldrich founded development company Goldrich & Kest Industries with fellow Holocaust survivor Sol Kest in the 1950s and got his start building apartments. He made his mark with a series of developments in downtown Los Angeles when many doubted the area could attract residences.
The company, in partnership with developer Nathan Shapell, built the 255 Grand apartments on Bunker Hill, followed by the Promenade Towers, a twin tower apartment and office complex, in the 1980s.
“Downtown really was just offices,” Rochkind said. “You had your accounting firms and law firms, courts and that was it. There were no restaurants, nothing. He figured there are plenty of workers down there who would like to live close to their offices, something that’s now very popular.”
Goldrich also was a pioneer in Marina del Rey, building one of its first apartment complexes, the Dolphin Marina, in 1968. Goldrich & Kest now owns four apartment buildings and three marinas in the seaside town. Goldrich’s vision contradicted many people’s thinking at the time.
“A lot of people said, ‘Jona, you’re wasting your money. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Nobody’s going to want to live here. It’s full of mosquitos,’” said Rochkind, recalling a story Goldrich had shared with him in his eighties.
Goldrich envisioned the area as a beacon of California lifestyle, with its boats, beaches and sunsets. “He had the crystal ball,” Rochkind said.
The developer also started building public housing projects after President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Housing and Urban Development Act in 1965, which provided low-income tenants with rent subsidies. Of the 122 apartment buildings he constructed, 72 accommodate low-income families, Rochkind said.
“I got satisfaction out of providing poor people with housing, but I made money at it,” Goldrich told the Los Angeles Business Journal in a 2001 interview. “They limited how much money you could make, but there was zero risk.”
In 2001, the Business Journal estimated Goldrich’s net worth to be $950 million, which he disputed, insisting he was worth $180 to $200 million. Whatever figure was closer to the truth, it allowed him to exercise a philanthropic bent.
He supported Holocaust remembrance and awareness, starting the Goldrich Family Foundation to further that mission and other causes. He also served as a major benefactor to numerous Jewish and Israeli charities.
Goldrich told the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2001 that he would donate $500,000 a year – about 10% to 15% of his personal income at the time – to educational, Jewish and Israeli charities.
His crowning achievement was helping to establish the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park.
“Jona had a passionate connection to this history and a passionate connection to making the effort – and it is an effort – to hold history,” said Samara Hutman, the museum’s executive director.
Goldrich was born in 1927 in Lvov, Poland. His childhood was turned upside down by the arrival of World War II and the Nazi invasion of Poland. In 1942, Goldrich and his brother Avraham were smuggled out to Hungary, eventually settling in Israel. Another brother and the rest of his family died in concentration camps.
Goldrich lived and worked in Israel for 11 years, before immigrating to the United States with hopes of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was rejected due to inadequate English skills. With little money, Goldrich hopped on a bus to Southern California, where he thought the climate most resembled Israel’s.
Goldrich started a construction cleanup business in 1954; during that time he learned the ins and outs of the real estate business. He built his first apartment building in North Hollywood at age 29, an initial endeavor that ballooned into a real estate empire.
Goldrich didn’t go without criticism, for what was deemed a combative business style and occasionally shoddy or inadequate construction, according to a 1986 Los Angeles Times profile.
In late 1984, condominium owners in one of the Promenade buildings sued Goldrich & Kest as well as Shapell Industries, alleging defects including a faulty heating and air conditioning system, defective trash chutes and leaky windows. Goldrich conceded to the leakage problems but said they were exaggerated.
Daughter Melinda Goldrich said her father went about his business in a single-minded and strong-willed manner.
“‘This is what I’m doing. You can be on board or you cannot be on board,’” said Melinda, reflecting on her father’s personal style. “Kid, employee, potential partner in work or business. You join with his vision or you didn’t. He was a very independent person because he lost his parents at a young age.”
Once he became a father, Goldrich juggled raising children while furthering his real estate ambitions.
“If I wanted to spend time with him as a kid, I needed to go in his car to construction locations,” Melinda Goldrich said. “He was dedicated to family but not in a traditional sense.”
Goldrich is survived by his wife of 56 years, Doretta; brother Avraham; daughters Melinda and Andrea Goldrich Cayton; and grandchildren Garrett, Lindsay and Derek.