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Jerry Snyder, prolific developer who shaped the L.A. skyline, dies at 90

Real Estate developer Jerry Snyder is seen in his West Los Angeles penthouse office in 1997.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Jerome “Jerry” Snyder, a prolific Los Angeles developer who built thousands of homes and millions of square feet of commercial buildings in a 70-year career, has died.

Snyder started building professionally at age 19 and was overseeing construction of a high-rise apartment tower near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at the time of his death at age 90.

He died Friday at his home in Bel Air after a brief battle with cancer, his family said.

Snyder was born Jan. 3, 1930, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He moved with his family in 1944 to Los Angeles, where they lived in Boyle Heights and Jerry graduated from Roosevelt High School.

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He attended one semester at UCLA but found himself too restless for school and instead served a brief stint in the Navy. At 19 he decided that he knew enough about construction from working with his carpenter father to start a home remodeling business.

Although he was on his own, he had business cards printed that said Snyder & Son to imply to potential customers that there was an older grown-up behind the scenes. Soon he moved from remodeling to building individual homes. As he gained experience he began building small subdivisions and then made a jump in scale after he persuaded Home Savings & Loan to finance construction of an 80-home community in Orange County.

In the post-World War II era, he capitalized on a provision of the GI Bill that allowed veterans to buy homes for no money down. By the age of 22 he was building 2,000 homes a year. He established J. H. Snyder Co. and became a major home builder in Southern California and also built in other states.

In the late 1970s, as the economy stagnated and home building slowed, Snyder transformed J. H. Snyder Co. into a developer of commercial properties. Over the next four decades, he shifted with market demands from building offices to retail centers to multifamily structures.

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“Jerry was always reinventing himself,” said longtime partner Cliff Goldstein, who went on to co-found the real estate company GPI Cos. with another Snyder Co. alumnus, Drew Planting.

“He had the most optimistic view of the future.”

In 1978, Snyder and some partners bought the former western headquarters of Prudential Insurance on Wilshire Boulevard and renovated it to rent to tenants. It’s now named SAG-AFTRA Plaza after its largest tenant, the labor union for entertainment industry artists.

Snyder helped make the Miracle Mile neighborhood a mainstay of entertainment businesses when he developed Wilshire Courtyard across the boulevard in 1987. The 1-million-square-foot complex was designed with jagged edges that provided many corner offices and rooftop terraces, which proved appealing to industry tenants.

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His project still underway is a 20-story luxury apartment tower next to SAG-AFTRA Plaza called the Residences at Wilshire Curson, which will have 285 units overlooking neighboring museums and their grounds. It is set to open by early next year.

He first envisioned that building as an office tower, but changed course as demand for apartments in L.A. heated up. He made a similar calculation a decade earlier when he dropped plans to build a seven-story retail mall at Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue and instead built a $200-million high-rise apartment and retail complex called the Vermont.

Snyder had to give up on the mall in the face of the 2007 recession, which made it unlikely that stores would be able to pay the rents he needed to justify construction. The switch to apartments proved profitable — he sold the Vermont for $285 million shortly after completion in 2014.

Among Snyder’s best-known projects are the Ocean Towers high-rise condominiums and the Water Garden office complex, both in Santa Monica. He built dining, shopping and entertainment centers such as the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and the River at Rancho Mirage in the Palm Springs Valley.

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Other prominent Snyder retail developments include West Hollywood Gateway, NoHo Commons in North Hollywood and Bella Terra in Huntington Beach.

His longtime partners at J.H. Snyder include Lew Geyser, who was with Snyder for 50 years, Michael Wise and son Lon Snyder, who joined the company in 1986.

Snyder and his wife, Joan, made UCLA the beneficiary of much of their philanthropy, including a $3-million contribution to endow three faculty chairs at the Stein Eye Institute. They also established the Jerome Snyder Systems Building and Housing Research Fellowship at the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Survivors include his wife and three children, Wendy, William and Lon.


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