A Blogside Chat With Sonny Astani

Concerto: an instrumental work that highlights a soloist.

Councilwoman for the 9th district Jan Perry graced downtownster’s first blogside chat. Jan, as we’ve come to know her, was an easy choice because her district is, as previously stated, the core of the biggest city in the largest state in the most powerful country on Earth.

Sonny Astani is a real estate developer, he owns the best location in the biggest city in the largest state in the most powerful country on Earth and he’s built a place for people to live there—Concerto (9th & Fig).

For almost 14 years I have dwelled in the building known as The Skyline (9th & Flower), which for the last two decades laid undisputed claim to the best address in South Park. Over the years I wondered if anyone would ever have the vision and courage to develop the sprawling parking lot immediately to the east of The Skyline’s elegant landscape. And then the word came one day that the empty parcel had been bought. With a signature, thirty million dollars was paid and the end came to a woeful parking lot too long the symbol of unmotivated land speculation. This struck a note.

An optimist by nature I just assumed something worthy would be built, and then proceeded with my own existence. So elated was I over Ralphs opening for business opposite my own abode I hardly noticed the asphalt being broken and carted off one block down. The good times were at their peak when I did notice the fence and deep hole—a lot of costly to move expensive earth had been displaced. And then there was a very tall crane from which a banner hung, which read Astani—and a second note sounded; this one more profound than the first. A plethora of individuals can buy, but few can build.

A year passed, the good times came to an end, and thirty stories of steel stood watch over the corner of 9th and Figueroa Streets. Perhaps, more interesting than those who know how to enjoy themselves on Saturday night, are those that revel on Monday night unto the wee hours. And so without interruption five hundred men continued to work on a building that was given a name that describes the art made by one, when the creative fabric surrounding ceases for a moment of acknowledgement—the height of humanity is found in the silence that allows this realization. I watched as the work continued, though the Good Time Charlie’s who had just come for the party had left, or were trying to with haste. And now this third note played with me—“I wonder who this Mr. Astani might be?” I thought to myself.

Recently, residences went up for sale at Concerto. And although this alone was compelling enough to justify a chat with Sonny Astani—there was an LA Times article about his grand, or should I say Fig, endeavor, which I credit as the tipping point. The LA Times, to put it simply, is a bad paper. There are still a few good writers under the company’s employ and every now and then they publish a high quality story, but mostly they manage to get it wrong. And while the Times did dedicate an abundance of words to the story of Concerto, they did not ring in my ears as an acceptable account.

I walked into the sale’s office at Concerto and inquired as to where I might find the owner—he was not on the premises. But the conversation that ensued resulted in another acquisition of prime real estate by Sonny Astani—Concerto acquired the downtownster leaderboard. Imagine my interest level in meeting the man who had developed a three hundred million dollar building next to my own. And had bought the leaderboard of my website. And somewhere in the process I had become aware of a seventeen million dollar donation he had made to USC, a one and a half million dollar donation to the Skid Row Housing Trust (which helps the chronically ill homeless), and another donation of close to two million dollars to a battered women’s shelter. Yes, I did indeed really desire to speak with this gentleman.

Brenda, from Sonny’s office called and asked if I could come by on Thursday afternoon— 

My first impression of Sonny Astani was that he is a serious man. By that I mean, more steak than sizzle. Dressed in dark attire, physically fit (50’s), and a deep voice that pronounces words with a casual blend of humility, confidence, and cordiality.

“Would you like to sit in the conference room?” he asked as I followed him.

I looked around the room. There is no room in the Concerto sales office, built at a cost of $700,000 dollars, which is not impressive. “Actually, if you don’t mind I’d like to take you out for some coffee?”

“Sure, where would you like to go?”

“There’s a Starbucks at LA Live, let’s go there.” LA Live, in all of its contrived corporate glory, offers the perfect juxtaposition to chat with someone that is individually excellent. “And Sonny,” I continued, “this isn’t an interview, it’s a conversation, so forget about the talking points…” Because I am prone to verbal excess I’ll edit the rest of the thoughts I took the time to share about the utilization of new media communication. I stopped on the sidewalk across the street from Concerto. Shielding my eyes from the sun’s reflection I asked, “What do you think?”

This moment caught him off guard just a bit. I knew that it would. Successful men rarely take even a moment to stop and look back or to admire their accomplishments, rather they are always looking forward to the next task at hand—usually a still greater challenge.

“What do you think of the thirty story tower you’ve built?”

“It’s a good building…I really tried to give it some special things…Some touches to make it different from everything else.”

As we walked to Starbucks I asked him about his childhood in Iran. His father had worked his way through the military ranks to become a General. Sonny had been expected to excel at school—he did. And with the winds of trouble beginning to blow in the country he called home Sonny journeyed to America to obtain a Master’s Degree in engineering.

I’m struggling now. It turns out to be difficult to not turn a chat into a biography for some reason. The story of an immigrant, who comes to America, goes to USC, brings his family to join him, and makes a fortune, it’s the great American tale, but it’s not the reason I wanted him to start talking with downtownster—there’s more to Sonny Astani than that.

To be continued…

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