Wally Marks dies at 78; his family real estate firm left its imprint on L.A.

Wally Marks, whose family real estate firm helped develop Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and preserve the Helms Bakery building, has died. He was 78.

Marks, who was also a philanthropist and human rights activist, died Monday of cancer at his West Los Angeles home, said his wife, Suzy.

In 1956, his father founded the Beverly Hills real estate firm that he named for himself -- Walter N. Marks Inc. -- and sold or created many complexes on Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to the ocean.

After his father developed the Santa Monica Mall in the 1960s, the junior Marks helped transform it into the Third Street Promenade in the 1980s.

When the Helms family closed its bakery building on Venice Boulevard in 1969, Marks lobbied to acquire the space. The family turned the building into a center mainly for home furnishings and antiques.

Following his father’s lead, Marks looked for ways to use real estate to benefit the community, which included providing affordable space for nonprofits and businesses such as the Jazz Bakery, his wife said.

“He always felt that he never really deserved the good fortune that was bestowed upon him as a young man, and he developed a great sensitivity to the underdog,” she said.

The perspective extended to his politics. For decades, Marks supported progressive organizations in Los Angeles. Later in life, he assisted groups committed to achieving peace and ending human rights violations in the Middle East.

He also spent 17 years on the board of the Santa Monica-based Liberty Hill Foundation, which funds community activism.

“Money is only a tool to do with it what you want and serve a purpose,” Marks once said.

A Los Angeles native, he was born Walter Nathan Marks Jr. on July 4, 1930, the first of two children. His mother was the former Doris Weinberger.

Growing up in Beverly Hills, he was influenced by his next-door neighbor, Jean Sieroty, who often spoke about the need for social justice. Her son, Alan, who was his good friend, became a state senator.

At Stanford University, Marks earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1954. He spent two years in the Army and practiced law for a year and then joined the family business.

After he retired in 1996, his son, Walter Marks III, took over the company.

In addition to his son and Suzy, his wife of 50 years, Marks is survived by three daughters, Laurie Wagner, Wendy Miller and Amanda Rondash; 10 grandchildren; and a sister, Marlene Louchheim.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Culver City.