A BLOGSIDE CHAT WITH SONNY ASTANI

PART II

Foreword by Stan Lerner: the concept / purpose of a blogside chat is to develop a conversational relationship with extraordinary people such as City Councilwoman Jan Perry and mega developer / philanthropist Sonny Astani—and others to come in the near future. It is my personal belief that one of the great contributing factors to much of what ills our culture, society, and country today are invisible walls, which stand between politicians, CEO’s, spiritual leaders, and the people. Of equal concern are the walls that also seem to be between—rich, middle class, poor, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Republican, and Democrat. It is my hope that PART 2 of my chat with Sonny Astani will be yet another downtownster step toward removing these walls… 

As I sat with Sonny Astani at Starbucks LA Live and talked about Downtown, I couldn’t help but to be impressed by how much he cared for the community. We spoke a bit about his ten-year plan; he’s an engineer so of course he has a ten-year plan for Downtown. My mind wandered to the fact that I rarely have a ten-day plan, which is probably why I’m not the one building a thirty-story tower on Figueroa. Anyway, at this point I asked him about the seventeen million dollar donation he had made to USC, the one and a half million dollar donation to the Skid Row Housing Trust (which helps the chronically ill homeless), and the donation of close to two million dollars to the battered women’s shelter.

Remember, Sonny Astani is a serious man. And for readers who have yet to read Part One of this blogside chat, by serious, I mean more steak than sizzle. He usually dresses in dark attire, he’s physically fit (50’s), and he speaks with a deep voice that pronounces words with a casual blend of humility, confidence, and cordiality.

“I didn’t want people to think I just came Downtown to make money. I wanted to make sure that Downtown becomes a better place…See at USC it’s important that students learn how to build the cities of the future.” He moved his hands around in a circular motion in front of him as if he could visualize and outline the perimeter of the city of the future. “We really have to think about quality of life and sustainability….”

“Skid Row?”

Sonny tilted his head slightly as if to say that this was nothing. “It was just a million five to get them over the hump so they could complete the project. You know ten percent of the homeless, the chronically ill, consume eighty percent of resources…They’re really doing some good work down there.”

 

This was enough to even choke someone like me up.

I coughed to clear my throat. “How about the battered women’s shelter?”

“It hasn’t gone as well as Skid Row in terms of getting a new building built, but still a lot of good work is getting done. And we will get a new facility built when the economy gets better….What about you, how do you feel about Downtown these days?”

“You know Sonny, I think in a lot of ways it’s what the world should be. So many different types of people all living in what, maybe fifteen square blocks? And it’s not just the racial and religious diversity, it’s the socioeconomic diversity added into the pot that makes it such and incredible place.” I paused and watched the first of thousands that would be walking by on their way to the Lakers playoff game. “I mean think about it we all go to the same supermarket.” I pointed around. “Tim Leiweke the president of AEG, Jam Perry, you, me, the homeless guy—we all go to the same Ralphs…It’s a real community made up of every kind of people—and getting better every day.”

“That’s the idea, to create a city that works for everyone,” said Sonny, I think reasonably pleased that I at least understand some of his vision.

We spoke for a couple of more hours—he really knows martial arts and lights up when talking about Tai Chi.

“Tai Chi has done so much for me that I decided to build a Tai Chi park and make it part of Concerto’s public space on the corner of 9th and Flower,” he said, with an expression that was borderline bemused. And by this I don’t mean that he was bemused, but that he understood that people like this not so humble writer would be—until coming to understand the personal connection that the developer has to Tai Chi and his desire to bring it to others.

“I’d really like to go through the building floor by floor with you.”  It wasn’t just a building to me any longer.

Sonny nodded and a slight smile crossed his face. “I could take you now, but I’d rather wait until next week so you can see the models.”

It was my turn to nod and smile. “Next week then…”

A week had passed and I showed up with cappuccino in hand. I followed Sonny out the back door and up some stairs—we entered a two bedroom, two bath on the corner of 9th and Figueroa. My first thought was, “I want to live here. I want to write at that desk looking down at The Pantry or up the Figueroa Corridor. The cars seem to be placed on the street as if it were a work of art. But they move, so it’s kinetic art. Nighthawk, if it had been painted in Los Angeles would be something like this.”

Sonny had bent down to open a vent below the massive, almost floor to ceiling, window. “There’s nothing like this in any building Downtown. I wanted people to be able to get as much ventilation (fresh air) as they wanted, but of course I didn’t want to destroy the aesthetic created by the exterior surface continuity.”

I bent down to get a better look at the unique venting, making a real effort to focus on something other than the view. “That’s really clever. I see they run along the entire window line. It’s too bad they don’t do that in all of the new buildings. I don’t know if I could live in a building that I couldn’t let in some fresh air.”

“You know Stan, beside the fresh air, I kind of thought sometimes people would want to be able to hear what’s going on outside—it’s part of the experience of living in the city.”

Let me clarify: Concerto is built to be virtually silent, so if you want to hear what’s going on outside it’s necessary to open one of these cleverly designed panels. Otherwise all of the hustle and bustle is almost surreal. Art being played out in windows as picture frames—per my earlier thought.

The European kitchen caught my interest. “What type of countertop is that?”

“Caesarstone. I used it because I think people who live in a place like this will want to invite friends over and cook. Good food, good wine, that kind of lifestyle.” He pointed at the creamy white counter.  “It looks nice like granite and marble, but it’s more resistant to stain and scratching, you can really cook on it.”

“Wow. You put in gas countertop burners? That must of taken some engineering.”

“If you’re going to cook, gas is the way to go.” Sonny smiled. “And it is very difficult to put gas into a building this size.”

We walked through the bedrooms, which were placed on opposite ends of the entry hallway for maximum privacy. The smaller of the two bedrooms was closest to the entry, so as to easily be used as an office, should someone desire to work at home.

Since this is a blogside chat not an architectural review I’ll have to ask your forgiveness for this observation: Concerto uses real hardwood floors in all of its units and I really appreciate this.

“C’mon Stan, I want to show you the same model, but on the opposite side with a view of the pool area.” Sonny was really enjoying this now. Gone were all the concerns of running a huge development business—it was show and tell time. “The unit I’m about to show you sold to the first person that saw it, but it’s a great view of the pool…You know about the pool?”

To be continued…

A BLOGSIDE CHAT WITH SONNY ASTANI PART I & PART II 

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…

 PART II

Foreword by Stan Lerner: the concept / purpose of a blogside chat is to develop a conversational relationship with extraordinary people such as City Councilwoman Jan Perry and mega developer / philanthropist Sonny Astani—and others to come in the near future. It is my personal belief that one of the great contributing factors to much of what ills our culture, society, and country today are invisible walls, which stand between politicians, CEO’s, spiritual leaders, and the people. Of equal concern are the walls that also seem to be between—rich, middle class, poor, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Republican, and Democrat. It is my hope that PART 2 of my chat with Sonny Astani will be yet another downtownster step toward removing these walls… 

As I sat with Sonny Astani at Starbucks LA Live and talked about Downtown, I couldn’t help but to be impressed by how much he cared for the community. We spoke a bit about his ten-year plan; he’s an engineer so of course he has a ten-year plan for Downtown. My mind wandered to the fact that I rarely have a ten-day plan, which is probably why I’m not the one building a thirty-story tower on Figueroa. Anyway, at this point I asked him about the seventeen million dollar donation he had made to USC, the one and a half million dollar donation to the Skid Row Housing Trust (which helps the chronically ill homeless), and the donation of close to two million dollars to the battered women’s shelter.

Remember, Sonny Astani is a serious man. And for readers who have yet to read Part One of this blogside chat, by serious, I mean more steak than sizzle. He usually dresses in dark attire, he’s physically fit (50’s), and he speaks with a deep voice that pronounces words with a casual blend of humility, confidence, and cordiality.

“I didn’t want people to think I just came Downtown to make money. I wanted to make sure that Downtown becomes a better place…See at USC it’s important that students learn how to build the cities of the future.” He moved his hands around in a circular motion in front of him as if he could visualize and outline the perimeter of the city of the future. “We really have to think about quality of life and sustainability….”

“Skid Row?”

Sonny tilted his head slightly as if to say that this was nothing. “It was just a million five to get them over the hump so they could complete the project. You know ten percent of the homeless, the chronically ill, consume eighty percent of resources…They’re really doing some good work down there.”

This was enough to even choke someone like me up.

I coughed to clear my throat. “How about the battered women’s shelter?”

“It hasn’t gone as well as Skid Row in terms of getting a new building built, but still a lot of good work is getting done. And we will get a new facility built when the economy gets better….What about you, how do you feel about Downtown these days?”

“You know Sonny, I think in a lot of ways it’s what the world should be. So many different types of people all living in what, maybe fifteen square blocks? And it’s not just the racial and religious diversity, it’s the socioeconomic diversity added into the pot that makes it such and incredible place.” I paused and watched the first of thousands that would be walking by on their way to the Lakers playoff game. “I mean think about it we all go to the same supermarket.” I pointed around. “Tim Leiweke the president of AEG, Jam Perry, you, me, the homeless guy—we all go to the same Ralphs…It’s a real community made up of every kind of people—and getting better every day.”

“That’s the idea, to create a city that works for everyone,” said Sonny, I think reasonably pleased that I at least understand some of his vision.

We spoke for a couple of more hours—he really knows martial arts and lights up when talking about Tai Chi.

“Tai Chi has done so much for me that I decided to build a Tai Chi park and make it part of Concerto’s public space on the corner of 9th and Flower,” he said, with an expression that was borderline bemused. And by this I don’t mean that he was bemused, but that he understood that people like this not so humble writer would be—until coming to understand the personal connection that the developer has to Tai Chi and his desire to bring it to others.

“I’d really like to go through the building floor by floor with you.”  It wasn’t just a building to me any longer.

Sonny nodded and a slight smile crossed his face. “I could take you now, but I’d rather wait until next week so you can see the models.”

It was my turn to nod and smile. “Next week then…”

A week had passed and I showed up with cappuccino in hand. I followed Sonny out the back door and up some stairs—we entered a two bedroom, two bath on the corner of 9th and Figueroa. My first thought was, “I want to live here. I want to write at that desk looking down at The Pantry or up the Figueroa Corridor. The cars seem to be placed on the street as if it were a work of art. But they move, so it’s kinetic art. Nighthawk, if it had been painted in Los Angeles would be something like this.”

Sonny had bent down to open a vent below the massive, almost floor to ceiling, window. “There’s nothing like this in any building Downtown. I wanted people to be able to get as much ventilation (fresh air) as they wanted, but of course I didn’t want to destroy the aesthetic created by the exterior surface continuity.”

I bent down to get a better look at the unique venting, making a real effort to focus on something other than the view. “That’s really clever. I see they run along the entire window line. It’s too bad they don’t do that in all of the new buildings. I don’t know if I could live in a building that I couldn’t let in some fresh air.”

“You know Stan, beside the fresh air, I kind of thought sometimes people would want to be able to hear what’s going on outside—it’s part of the experience of living in the city.”

Let me clarify: Concerto is built to be virtually silent, so if you want to hear what’s going on outside it’s necessary to open one of these cleverly designed panels. Otherwise all of the hustle and bustle is almost surreal. Art being played out in windows as picture frames—per my earlier thought.

The European kitchen caught my interest. “What type of countertop is that?”

“Caesarstone. I used it because I think people who live in a place like this will want to invite friends over and cook. Good food, good wine, that kind of lifestyle.” He pointed at the creamy white counter.  “It looks nice like granite and marble, but it’s more resistant to stain and scratching, you can really cook on it.”

“Wow. You put in gas countertop burners? That must of taken some engineering.”

“If you’re going to cook, gas is the way to go.” Sonny smiled. “And it is very difficult to put gas into a building this size.”

We walked through the bedrooms, which were placed on opposite ends of the entry hallway for maximum privacy. The smaller of the two bedrooms was closest to the entry, so as to easily be used as an office, should someone desire to work at home.

Since this is a blogside chat not an architectural review I’ll have to ask your forgiveness for this observation: Concerto uses real hardwood floors in all of its units and I really appreciate this.

“C’mon Stan, I want to show you the same model, but on the opposite side with a view of the pool area.” Sonny was really enjoying this now. Gone were all the concerns of running a huge development business—it was show and tell time. “The unit I’m about to show you sold to the first person that saw it, but it’s a great view of the pool…You know about the pool?”

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “A BLOGSIDE CHAT WITH SONNY ASTANI”

  1. I love what is has happened Down Town and the growth of a new community . I would like to hear more about the schools and by this I mean early childhood centers .With a developing community I am sure young families are moving in which means they need schools and a place for kids to learn and grow .

  2. I have not only enjoyed one and two, but have sent them on to others. I do hope it is to be continued as I would be looking forward to more information.

    Good for you that you captured Sonny both in the business mode, cautious and reserved. Then bringing out the proud papa; showing you his work, his art. After all he is who he is and does not need to be justified by your article or my op- ed.

    I am enjoying this very much so, and am looking forward to more.

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