Los Angeles's "Duke of Art Deco" collects and rehabs buildings that once housed Hollywood's greats.

Los Angeles native Dave Goldstein is passionate about historic restoration.

He began collecting and restoring vintage apartment buildings 25 years ago. Today, he has a portfolio of 30-plus properties restored to their original condition, and a following of art deco and Hollywood groupies lining up to rent them.

Scattered in desirable neighborhoods from the Hollywood Hills to the Miracle Mile, Goldstein’s properties generate above-average rents, from about $1,300 for a "single"—which, in Los Angeles real estate parlance, is a one-room unit with a separate kitchen—to $3,800 for a three-bedroom unit. Although his properties are turning a profit, Goldstein contends that he is not in the rental business for the money. "It’s a hobby that got out of hand," he says.

Unlike East Coast cities, Los Angeles has a limited number of significant apartment buildings from the first half of the 20th century. "Only a handful of owners are willing to treat them like the angels they are," Goldstein says. "Some were built during the [Great] Depression by European immigrants, which is why they look European."

Mauretania, Courtesy Martin Schall

Known locally as the Duke of Art Deco, Goldstein treats his properties like works of art rather than real estate investments, restoring them with fastidious attention to detail, a trait carried over from his days of restoring old cars. "When you have something worth fixing up, it always blossoms into something wonderful," he says.

"Dave has the soul of an artist, which is rare in a businessman," observes John Desimio, a tenant at Mauretania, a 1930s classic art deco building designed by Milton J. Black. That ten-unit building, which received the 2009 Hancock Park Historical Society's award for Most Significant Restoration, was erected in 1934 by actor Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. It was named for a White Star ocean liner that broke the transatlantic-crossing record in 1919.

It briefly housed President John F. Kennedy, who rented the penthouse during the 1960 Democratic Convention because it provided a hideaway from the press. Over the years, Mauretania’s tenant roster has included film stars, supermodels, architects, rock musicians, and writers.

A number of Goldstein’s properties were previously occupied by famous people, including President Ronald Reagan during his acting days. A display case in Mauretania’s lobby holds several mementos from Kennedy’s stay, including his typewriter, newspaper clippings, as well as a photo taken in the dining room with Kennedy; Pierre Salinger, a campaign aide who would become White House press secretary; actor Peter Lawford, who was Kennedy’s brother-in-law; and then–vice presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson.

Desimio, whose unit at Mauretania includes part of Kennedy’s old apartment, says he feels honored to live in the flagship property of Goldstein’s portfolio. "I really love this place," he says, noting its sprawling layout, steel-framed windows that swing outward, and a huge deck with room for five tables and two dozen guests. "I’ve always wanted to live in a moderne art deco building. This is a classic expression of that style. When I walk up the stairs, it infuses my spirit," Desimio adds.

The Londonderry apartments, courtesy of Art Deco Apartments

When Reagan lived at 1326 Londonderry in the Hollywood Hills, he fondly referred to the building as "Fort Londonderry." He lived there during the 1930s with first wife, Jane Wyman, and moved back into the building in the 1950s with second wife, Nancy Reagan.

The building was originally owned by Argentine actor Alejandro Rey, who is best remembered for his role as the casino owner and playboy in the TV series The Flying Nun. It features penthouse-style units with city views all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a unique lobby/courtyard entrance, a doorman, and maid service included in rents.

Via Venita, courtesy Art Deco Apartments

Three 1930s Golden Era "themed" properties commissioned by actor Charlie Chaplin and Mack Sennett, a Canada-born director and an innovator of slapstick comedy in film, feel like Hollywood movie sets, Goldstein says. Located in the Hollywood Hills, Via Venita is a classic Venetian-style Italian villa.

Just up the street is the Moroccan, which was built to resemble a palace in, of course, Morocco. The building features turrets, French doors that open onto patios and balconies, antique lighting, and moldings throughout.

And the Claridge Apartments, built by Chaplin in 1934 after staying at the Hotel Claridge Paris on a honeymoon, is a classic French Normandy structure on Franklin Avenue, near Beachwood Canyon and Bronson Canyon.

The Claridge Apartments, Courtesy Art Dec Apartments

"Restoring old properties is not a developer’s job, because you can’t do it one, two, three, and do it right," Goldstein says. "Most restoration is original materials, and that’s hard to do and turn a profit." He says his properties are profitable only because he bought many of them 20 to 30 years ago at one-third today’s value.

Goldstein stockpiles old home parts, mostly from disassembled houses in the Midwest or from antique dealers, and has paid as much as $300 for the right doorknob.

He believes the technology in the unit should fit the period in which it was built, so there are no modern conveniences like dishwashers or hooded vents over stoves. Authenticity is important, but Goldstein often adds embellishments to a make a property more attractive or comfortable than the original version, which is why he does not apply for historic tax credits.

"I like making an apartment a home," Goldstein says. "When I get a building from the Depression era, I put glass in kitchen cabinets and might add leaded glass, antique light fixtures, wrought iron, a more established entry, security systems, sun decks on roofs, or patios," he says.

Goldstein’s work has affected property values in the neighborhoods where they are located, according to John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles.

"So much of Los Angeles is about the neighborhood, so preserving the character of neighborhoods is very important to the city," says Adrian Scott Fine, director of the Advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. "The great thing about L.A. is a lot of unique neighborhoods with really great apartments from the 20s, 30s, and 40s mixed in ... " what Dave is doing, we need more of that."

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Urban Land, the online publication of the Urban Land Institute; copyright 2012 by the Urban Land Institute.

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