Posted by: BayAreaComRE | June 28, 2010

San Francisco’s Prolific Real Estate Titan, Walter Shorenstein, Dies at Age 95: An Era Remembered

Michael Macor / San Francisco Chronicle

Walter Shorenstein, one of San Francisco’s most prolific commercial real estate figures ever, died last week at age 95. Shorenstein & Company, now run by Walter’s son Doug Shorenstein, owns and manages several buildings in downtown San Francisco, including 235 Montgomery (The Russ Building), One California, 50 California, 45 Fremont and recently acquired 120 Howard. 

Walter’s quote embodies his business and personal life. “I started out with $1,000 and used to think that if anyone could ever earn a million dollars, that’s all you could want,” Shorenstein said, according to a 1985 story in the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s like peddling a bike: Once you get going, it’s hard to stop.” 

Shorenstein Co. owns more than 7 million square feet (650,321 square meters) of office space in downtown San Francisco. The Los Angeles Times said in 1985 that Shorenstein “has done more to change San Francisco’s skyline than anyone else” — and more than 25 million square feet nationwide. (Bloomberg). 

When you tour the Russ Building now, the brokers often take you by Walter’s large topographic maps of San Francisco and California and the antiquated model ships on showcase. He was a true San Franciscan, extending his money and influence not only to the commercial real estate world but also in keeping the San Francisco Giants here in San Francisco in 1992. 

Walter Shorenstein was at the helm from 1960 to 1995, beginning with purchases of the Russ Building and Merchants Exchange building (465 California). “Two of his first acquisitions were the Merchants Exchange and Russ buildings in San Francisco. In 1985, he made his best known acquisition, purchasing the 52-story Bank of America tower in San Francisco and two adjoining buildings for $660 million — at the time, the highest price ever paid for a property in the United States.” (NY Times) 

“The 52-story reddish-brown granite tower and adjacent buildings were bought by a group of New York investors, led by Mark Karasick and David Werner, for $825 million, or about $487 for each rentable square foot. Mr. Shorenstein’s father, Walter, acquired the building from the bank in 1985 and later sold a half interest back to the bank.” NY Times, 2005. San Francisco’s Goldilocks Market. 

The current owner of the Bank of America Center, Vornado “[bought] the majority stakes in both buildings from a consortium of Hong Kong investors known as Hudson Waterfront Associates that had partnered with Donald J. Trump on several deals. (Costar) 

555 California housed Bank of America’s former world headquarters, and also Shorenstein’s former headquarters as his son Doug moved Shorenstein’s offices to one of Walter’s original investments, 235 Montgomery. 

Upon Vornado’s acquisition, Shorenstein moved its headquarters to the Russ Building from the 49th floor of the Bank of America Center. The SF Business Times reported on the departure in September of 2008. “The departure of Shorenstein for the Russ Building at 235 Montgomery St., creates top-notch vacancies at both the bottom and top of the tower. Shorenstein had its 25,000-square-foot headquarters on the 49th floor and ran its operations out of the second floor, part of the original banking hall that has 30-foot ceilings overlooking the plaza. ” San Francisco Business Times. Vornado in, Shorenstein out at trophy tower. 

“Under Shorenstein’s son, Doug, the company in more recent years purchased high-profile properties, including the First Union Financial Center (renamed the Wachovia Financial Center) in Miami and the Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York. Doug Shorenstein joined his father’s business in 1983 and became chairman and chief executive officer in 1995. Under his guidance, the firm has gathered funds from “contracyclical” sources, including university endowments, foundations and wealthy investors, Bergsman wrote. The company’s ninth closed- end fund began in 2007 and had committed capital of more than $2 billion as of June 2009, according to the company website.” (Bloomberg). 

In a contribution to an oral-history project at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2009, he said: “Just because a new investment fad sweeps through certain crowds, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a smart place to put your money. If terms like counterparty risk, mark-to-market accounting, and capital-structure arbitrage aren’t part of your everyday conversation, then don’t risk your future on something you don’t understand.” (Bloomberg) 

Shorenstein most recently made the headlines for its planned addition to 120 Howard. We spoke with inside sources at Shorenstein, which alerted us that they plan on moving forward. “Shorenstein Properties is talking to contractors and lenders about adding 67,000 square feet on the top of 120 Howard St. The investment company is not ready to commit to the project, but is reportedly leaning toward going ahead with it, according to industry sources.” Will Shorenstein roll dice on spec office building?.

Doug’s strategy over the past few years has been to minimize their San Francisco presence to expand nationally. They have equity investments in 20 cities around the country, and debt interest in New York, Washington D.C, Sunnyvale, CA and Santa Monica,CA. See more information at

Although Walter has been removed from the family-owned business for some years, his legacy in commercial real estate, the city of San Francisco, and the country lives on.


  1. Tremendous things here. I am very happy to see your
    article. Thanks so much and I’m looking forward to contact you.
    Will you please drop me a mail?

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