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Walter Shorenstein, Industry Pioneer, Dies at 95

By Bob Howard

SAN FRANCISCO – Walter H. Shorenstein, the founder of the Shorenstein Co., has died at the age of 95. Shorenstein―who in addition to founding one of the country’s largest privately held real estate firms, was also a confidant of presidents and a philanthropist who was much-honored for his civic achievements―died of natural causes Thursday at his home in San Francisco.

Shorenstein founded his firm more than 50 years ago in San Francisco and built it into a company that today controls approximately 30 million square feet of premier office projects throughout the US, operating in all phases of commercial real estate, including building development, office space leasing and property management.

The company has owned, operated and leased the some of the nation’s most prominent properties, including the 2.4-million-square-foot Bank of America World Headquarters Building in San Francisco, the one-million-square-foot John Hancock Center in Chicago and the 2.1-million-square-foot Prudential Plaza in Chicago.

Shorenstein began his real estate career in San Francisco in 1946 after he was discharged from the Army Air Corps as a major. He joined the firm of Milton Meyer & Co. in property sales and management, becoming the owner’s only partner in 1951, then bought the company in 1960 to become sole owner. By 1953 he was recognized by Time magazine as a “Leader of Tomorrow.”

Along the way to building his real estate company, Shorenstein garnered a long list of honors for his civic, political and philanthropic activities, which included contributions to humanitarian and educational efforts as well as involvement in a broad range of civic affairs, among them his chairing of a consortium of investors that bought the San Francisco Giants in 1993 to avert the team’s move to Florida.

Among the honors was the Shorenstein Lifetime Achievement Award,which President Bill Clinton presented to him in 1999. The award was established by the Democratic National Committee to recognize individuals demonstrating a lifetime of commitment and active service to the Democratic Party. Besides being a lifelong contributor to the party, he was an adviser to presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Clinton and a confidant of Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Among his real estate honors, he was inducted into the Bay Area Council’s Business Hall of Fame in San Francisco and was one of the first inducted into the University of Southern California Real Estate Hall of Fame, in 1997. His humanitarian activities included the chairmanship of the Viet Nam Orphans’ Airlift in 1975, which brought over 2000 orphaned children from Vietnam to the US and matched them with adopting families here. More recently, he worked with the Clinton Global Initiative, creating an ongoing public-private partnership including Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Carnegie Corp., the City of San Francisco and many others to support the recovery of New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood following Hurricane Katrina.

In the educational realm, Shorenstein established the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1986 in memory of his daughter Joan, who had been a producer for the CBS Evening News, including seven years as producer of “Face the Nation.” He also established the Shorenstein Asia/Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, Established the Shorenstein Asia/Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, co-hosted annual New Economy Summit with deans Laura Tyson and Tom Campbell of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, served on the International and Area Studies Advisory Board at the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored Shorenstein Seminars & Symposia through the Institute of East Asian Studies and was a frequent guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Stanford University, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the University of San Francisco and Brigham Young University’s Post-graduate Real Estate Program.

With his daughter Carole Shorenstein Hays, Shorenstein established three major theaters in San Francisco: the Orpheum, the Curran and the Golden Gate, which present Broadway productions. His son Douglas is chairman and CEO of the Shorenstein Co. In addition to Carole and Douglas, he is survived by grandchildren Sarah Barone, Wally and Grace Hays, and Brandon, Sandra and Danielle Shorenstein. His wife of 49 years, Phyllis, died in June 1994.