The city of Los Angeles has lost a leader and champion of our architectural gems this week when Hancock Park resident Wayne Ratkovich passed away at the age of 82. Anyone who was lucky enough to know Wayne knew they were in the company of a genuinely nice man who deeply cared about his community and his neighborhood.
In 2017, the Hancock Park Garden Club, part of the Garden Club of America, a national network of more than 200 garden clubs across the country, presented a commendation to Ratkovich and Windsor Square resident and Chair of the California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols for Conservation and Theodore Payne Foundation Executive Director Kitty Connolly.
At the time, HPGC Award Chairman Carolyn Bennett presented the Club Historic Preservation Commendation to Wayne Ratkovich, saying:
“Wayne is a developer…a developer with a heart and a passion and a drive. For 30+ years his company, The Ratkovich Company, has been leading the charge to revitalize Los Angeles’ urban landscape. His record of reclamation and restoration is astounding. TRC has re-developed nearly 18 million square feet of commercial space in Los Angeles County, including the Oviatt Building, the iconic Pellisier and its Wiltern Theater, Terminal Annex, Macy’s Plaza Downtown, Chapman Market, The Alhambra (a 45 acre mixed use urban community in the city of Alhambra), The San Pedro Public Market (formerly Ports O’Call Village) and The Bloc, a 1.8 million square foot, mixed-use property at the heart of downtown Los Angeles that will become the premier urban retail, office and hospitality destination.”
Honored with many awards, Ratkovich’s company continues to live by its philosophy to do “good” and do “well.” He believes that profit should be a natural consequence of good work. In Ratkovich’s words, “When we enhance and preserve a building that has long been part of a city’s fabric, we become a contributing member of the community…we are in the business of recreating buildings to serve the market and cater to the needs of the community.”
The company’s goal is to apply a developer’s skills and imagination to projects which will create livable urban neighborhoods…focusing on urban infill and rehabilitation projects which make more efficient use of the land and the buildings. Growth for the sake of growth does not encourage quality of life.
As he says, “We’re in the business of producing environments that make people happy.”
Ratkovich said this was the most local award he had received and he was quite honored to be recognized by his friends and neighbors.
Recently Ratkovich was leading an effort to engage the business community as partners in developing solutions to the city’s homelessness crisis. As president of Jonathan Club, Ratkovich organized three forums for his peers and their guests digging deep into the causes and potential solutions. His work is continuing. Another forum is scheduled for this week.
Ratkovich is best known as founder and CEO of The Ratkovich Company (TRC), whose mission in its more than 40 years as a Los Angeles development firm has been “to profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life.”
“Ratkovich renovated some of the city’s best-known architectural gems that had fallen on hard times in an era when ever-evolving L.A. wasn’t much interested in preserving buildings that had grown old and were considered obsolete. Structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were routinely razed, including the 1929 Richfield Building downtown that was widely considered an Art Deco masterpiece,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
In a 2015 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ratkovich laid out his underlying philosophy on business and life. “We’d like to be an example of capitalism in its most admirable form,” he said. “We function in the private market, not with government subsidies, and we fulfill our mission to profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life. That allows us to do well and do good at the same time.”
Ratkovich spent five years as an industrial real estate developer until an opportunity to buy the 12-story Oviatt Building came across his desk in 1977. The building was owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and was being priced at about $5 per square foot, assuming the new owner would want to demolish the structure and operate the property more profitably as a parking lot – which says something about the state of downtown Los Angeles in the late 1970s.
Instead of tearing it down, Ratkovich’s underwriting and analysis determined the building should be renovated. They were also pushed in that direction, as the city designated the building a historic-cultural landmark. Ratkovich chose to embrace the designation and market the Oviatt Building’s historic status. That proved to be a hit with tenants, including the successful Rex, Il Ristorante, which occupied the former men’s haberdashery on the ground floor.
As Ratkovich said in 2020, “the experience with the Oviatt changed forever my role as a developer. I no longer had interest in factories and warehouses. I realized that my little company could make a positive difference in the city, and it was something I wanted to continue to do.”
Among other notable projects Ratkovich steered include the historic Pellissier Building and adjoining Wiltern Theatre in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. The theater – which opened as the flagship, showpiece movie house for Warner Bros. Entertainment – had become decrepit by the late 1970s. The work of preservationists including the Los Angeles Conservancy saved the property from the wrecking ball until Ratkovich could purchase it in 1981. After a four-year renovation, the Wiltern reopened with a run of shows performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, followed by a major Tom Petty concert a few months later. Today, it remains one of L.A.’s most significant performance venues.
“The greatest thing Wayne did is shine a bright light on historic buildings in Downtown and beyond,” said Linda Dishman, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Conservancy. “He was a pioneer in transforming underutilized buildings into places people wanted to go, including the Oviatt, Fine Arts and the Wiltern. He was not only a champion of preservation in Los Angeles but also as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He was a towering figure and will be greatly missed.” Many of TRC’s buildings were honored with top awards by the L.A. Conservancy.
Seeing a blueprint for success and driven by a new passion for transforming core urban developments, TRC would go on to reimagine several landmark projects throughout the Los Angeles area, including The Fine Arts Building, Chapman Market, and 5900 Wilshire, a 30-story office tower across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as a 40 acre mixed-use development, “The Alhambra,” in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley.
In 2011, the Urban Land Institute named Ratkovich a Life Trustee, an honor given to just 15 members in the 80-year history of the 35,000-member organization. Ratkovich was formerly a member of the Urban Land Institute’s Global Board of Directors, as well as a Trustee Emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Wayne Ratkovich was a true visionary in urban development, city building, and place making and exemplified everything that a real estate developer should be,” said Clare De Briere, Americas Chair and member of the Global Board of Directors of the Urban Land Institute. “His focus on creating places for people – thoughtful, beautiful, wondrous, peaceful, playful places – made everyday life better for everyone who experienced them. He not only embodied the values of the Urban Land Institute but drove those values over his half-century of membership and leadership in the organization.”
Ratkovich received the Distinguished Businessperson Award from the USC Architectural Guild and the Design Advocate Develop Award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In addition, Ratkovich was presented last year with the Rotary Club of Los Angeles’ Distinguished Citizen Award, recognizing an Angeleno who embodies Rotary’s motto of “service above self.”
“Wayne Ratkovich was known for big real estate developments, but his heart and passion for the people of Los Angeles was even bigger,” said Father Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries. “He was more than a supporter – Wayne was a guiding light and a true role model for what a civic leader should be, and we were lucky to have him as a board member who rolled up his sleeves and helped us implement the physical expansion of Homeboy across Los Angeles. He was one of a kind, and he will be truly missed.”
In addition to his service on the Homeboy Industries Board of Directors and Executive Committee, Ratkovich was a founding board member of the Downtown Women’s Center and the founding board chair of Wende Museum in Culver City. Additionally, Ratkovich gave the American Contemporary Ballet its start in Los Angeles, and he was a co-chair of California Hospital Medical Center’s capital campaign.
Wayne Ratkovich was born on May 29, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. When Ratkovich was 10, his father saved up enough money to buy five acres of land in Hacienda Heights, moving the family to a farm where they grew lemons, avocados, and raised chickens. Later, his father bought a four-unit apartment complex and moved the family into it, while seeing his investment grow. Understanding the work and sacrifice his father endured to make these purchases made investing in land the “through line of [his] career,” as Ratkovich said in 2021.
After graduating from La Puente High School, Ratkovich attended UCLA, where he was a defensive end on the football team who often lined up in practice against another titan of Los Angeles real estate who became a good friend: the late Nelson Rising.
Upon graduating from UCLA in 1963, Ratkovich took a job as a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker.
Ratkovich married JoAnn Calkins on August 19, 1967. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1967-1971.
Ratkovich died on Sunday, September 24, 2023, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 82 years old. The cause of death was complications from an aortic aneurysm. He is survived by his wife JoAnn, son Milan and daughter-in-law Jenny, daughter Anna and son-in-law Eric, and daughter Lindsay, grandchildren Mason, Tyler, Jake, Evelyn, and Greta. A private memorial service will be held in the near future.