Affordable Pursuit: Goldrich Kest co-founder Jona Goldrich in a 1992 photograph.

Affordable Pursuit: Goldrich Kest co-founder Jona Goldrich in a 1992 photograph. Photo by Todd Cunningham / LABJ

Developer Jona Goldrich came to the United States in the early 1950s with $50 and the moxie to build a real estate development company from scratch. With his death last month at 88, the company he founded, Goldrich Kest, now moves forward without his guidance on a series of renovations to its long-held properties, including 10 in Southern and Northern California.

“We’re very focused on the assets we currently own and making sure they’re the best they can be,” said Mike Drandell, Goldrich Kest’s chief operating officer.

Born in Poland, Goldrich came to the United States via Israel after fleeing the Nazis as a boy. He found his way to Los Angeles, where he became a mechanic before founding a company that cleaned up construction sites. Always eyeing bigger and better things, he built his first apartment, in North Hollywood, in 1957. Sol Kest, a fellow Holocaust survivor, became a partner in the new company in 1959, giving the firm its name Goldrich & Kest (the ampersand was removed recently). The press-shy Kest died in 2010, and with Goldrich’s death the Culver City company has moved into the hands of the next generation. The company today is owned by Goldrich’s two daughters and Kest’s four sons, although none of them participates in day-to-day operations.

Goldrich won a reputation as a pioneer for unlikely developments, building residential buildings in the swamps of Marina del Rey and the office zones of Bunker Hill. In the company’s heyday in the 1970s, it built as many as 30 or 40 properties a year.

“There was just this instinct that he had,” said Drandell, who joined the company in 1995. “A lot of our multifamily portfolio was in cities that you’d think no one would be developing in, and they became big communities.”

Building government-subsidized housing for low-income families and seniors was a key strategy. It might not have been the most lucrative area of the residential sector, but it was solid and dependable.

“I got satisfaction out of providing poor people with housing, but I made money at it,” Goldrich told the Business Journal in a 2001 interview. “They limited how much money you could make, but there was zero risk. I became the biggest in that business.”

Goldrich Kest claims to have been the largest privately held owner of subsidized housing in Southern California during the 1970s and ’80s. Part of the plan was to be able to switch the buildings to conventional use in 20 years, once restrictions imposed by the federal government expired. About two dozen of the firm’s government-subsidized apartments developed in the ’70s have since made that transition.

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