5 Bay Area Real Estate Dynasties
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Lately we've been exploring the real estate dynasties of prominent cities like New York, Miami, DC, LA, Houston, Dallas and Chicago. Now it's time to venture up to the San Francisco Bay Area to see what it has in store. The Bay Area's dynasties range from small family businesses to juggernauts—and include everything from philanthropy to scandal, all from some of America's wealthiest families. Here's a look at 5 headline-making bloodlines.
1. Sobrato family
The Founder: John A. Sobrato (pictured)
History: John A. Sobrato's father, John Massimo Sobrato, owned a famous Italian restaurant in San Francisco. When he died, John's mother Ann sold the restaurant for $75k and invested the proceeds in South Bay properties. John took over the business in the early 1960s before starting his own company, the Sobrato Organization, in 1979.
Famous Members: John's son, John M. Sobrato, is the CEO of the family business, while John remains chairman. Sue Sobrato, John's wife of 50+ years, is a trustee, along with daughters Sheri and Lisa, and Lisa's husband Matthew Sonsini.
The Latest: Following in the footsteps of Ann Sobrato, the charitable family has donated more than $300M to local nonprofits since starting a family foundation in 1996. The Sobrato Family Foundation, set up by daughter Lisa, has provided 68 nonprofit organizations with more than 333k SF of operating space, at a value of roughly $5.5M. John and Sue, along with their son John M., have also signed giving pledges promising 100% of their wealth—an estimated $6B to date – to charity either during their lifetime or upon their death.
Famous Properties: The Sobrato Organization owns 7.5M SF of office space in Silicon Valley, with tenants like Apple, Yahoo and Netflix. The firm also owns 6,600 apartments.
2. Shorenstein family
The Founder: Walter Shorenstein
History: Walter Shorenstein bought Shorenstein Co (then named Milton Meyer & Co) in 1960. He changed the name in 1989.
Famous Members: Walter's son Doug (pictured) ran the company until this past November, when he lost his battle with cancer. Walter's daughter Carol Shorenstein Hays is a Tony Award-winning theater producer many times over.
The Latest: Doug, known for his uncanny instincts regarding real estate, turned the company into a powerhouse, with the firm boasting over 70 properties in 13 cities, including LA, Portland, New York and San Francisco. Walter and his wife also started the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in honor of their late daughter Joan, who was a journalist at the Washington Post and CBS News. Walter passed away in 2010 at the age of 95.
Famous Properties: Under Doug's leadership the company purchased such high-profile properties as Miami's Wachovia Financial Center (formerly First Union Financial Center), and the Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York. Other iconic investments include Chicago's John Hancock Tower and New York's Park Avenue Tower.
Fun Fact: Walter Shorenstein and a group of investors bought the San Francisco Giants in 1992 for $100M, and Walter acted as an adviser to Presidents Johnson and Carter.
3. Bechtel family
The Founder: Warren A. Bechtel (pictured with his wife, Clara)
History: Warren started Bechtel engineering and construction company when he was just 25 years old and nearly bankrupt, with a new baby on the way.
Famous Members: When Warren died unexpectedly, he was succeeded by his son Stephen Bechtel Sr., who became chief executive of the Hoover Dam project. His son Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. took over in 1960 and ran the company until 1989, when he handed it over to his son Riley.
The Latest: Riley stepped down as CEO in 2014, and today the company is run by his son Brendan, who is president and COO. That's five generations. The company has 58,000 employees in nearly 50 countries.
Famous Properties: The firm is known for such iconic projects as the Hoover Dam, the Channel Tunnel, Crossrail London and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
4. Berg family
The Founder: Carl and Clyde Berg
Famous Members: Brothers Clyde and Carl founded Berg & Berg Enterprises and developed campuses for some of Silicon Valley's most prominent companies. A former partner of John Sobrato, Carl Berg acquired Mission West properties REIT in 1997 and sold it in 2012 to developer Divco West for $1.3B. But he's not out of the real estate game. He still owns Microsoft's Mountain View campus (pictured) and some buildings leased to Apple. In fact, Microsoft is planning an expansion for its campus.
The Latest: Carl's brother Clyde has had a challenging few years, battling in court with his estranged wife. The judge ultimately declared Berg "factually innocent" and dismissed the case as an "elaborate fraud."
Famous Properties: Microsoft campus, Apple, Silver Creek Business Park/Ciena Campus, and Orchard Trimble.
5. Wallace family
The Founder: William S. Wallace and William Edwin "Ed" Wallace
Famous Members: Father-son duo William and Ed Wallace opened Wallace Realtors in 1928. At the time William was a hospital manager and father of six, who had dabbled in real estate for most of his life, and Ed was a recent UC Berkeley grad with a background in the cleaning and dyeing industry. Ed's son Clark joined the company business in 1958 after spending three years in the Navy. He runs the company today.
Famous Properties: Notable deals include the sale of the 5,000 remaining acres of the 8,000-acre Moraga ranch to Utah Construction and Mining Co for $4M in 1953. He also sold the 108-acre Moraga Center to Bruzzone in 1964 and 2,300 more acres of Moraga to Bruzzone in 1967. Clark began developing projects on his own in 1974, including the Country Club and Sanders Ranch in Moraga, and the Pine Grove office complex and Orinda Theater project in Orinda.