Saying Goodbye: DTLA Remembers the Life & Passion of Visionary Wayne Ratkovich

Wayne Ratkovich, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer behind the revitalization of The Bloc, The Chapman and the Fine Arts Building has died. He was 82 years old.

The cause of death was complications from an aortic aneurysm.

Photo Courtesy: The Ratkovich Company

From the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley to the skyscrapers of downtown and from the coastline of Playa Vista to San Pedro, Ratkovich not only help shape our modern-day DTLA, but kick started the trend when it came to developers, seeking to restore historic buildings in Los Angeles over the past 40 years.

Throughout his career, Ratkovich had an uncanny ability to identify opportunities that others overlooked. This was especially true when it came to the early days of our paper. In 2017, upon hearing about DTLA Weekly’s devotion to print in a digital age, Ratkovich replied “That’s something!”

Fine Arts Building

Ratkovich just had that quality where He often saw the future in a piece of the past, even if others could not.

Ratkovich is best known as founder and CEO of The Ratkovich Company (TRC), whose mission has been “to profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life.”

That was especially true when it came to at least 18 historic buildings throughout the Los Angeles area, starting with his redevelopment of the James Oviatt Building (home to Cicada Restaurant) on Olive Street in downtown Los Angeles – the project that put The Ratkovich Company on the map.

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.”

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.”

LA 04 2005 004

Among other notable projects Ratkovich steered include the historic Pellissier Building and adjoining Wiltern Theatre on Miracle Mile.

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, and the Chapman Building.

The Bloc

Another page in the book of Ratkovich’s DTLA restoration legacy is the most notable urban development, The Bloc, a dramatic transformation of the old Macy’s Square, he took on, located at 7th and Flower.

Ratkovich saw a way to truly integrate this formerly closed-off, fortress-like complex into its downtown neighborhood, creating the first direct underground connection of a private community to a subway station. His innovative thinking now allows The Bloc’s tenants and visitors to seamlessly connect to the Bloc by riding METRO.

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. Wayne was truly dedicated to improving the built environment for the benefit of all and devoted his time to foster and mentor the next generation of leaders in real estate. I was a recipient of his mentorship and friendship for over thirty years. It was a joy to have had the privilege to spend so many years at Wayne’s side, learning how to build a better world. I am grateful to Wayne for my deep understanding of the responsibility that we as developers have to our communities. His passing is a deep loss to the development community worldwide, to the City of Los Angeles and to all of us who had the privilege to know him.”

Wayne Ratkovich at Homeboy Industries

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.”

Ratkovich was a past president of the Jonathan Club, where he instituted a series of programs aimed at addressing Los Angeles’ homeless crisis. He was a founding board member of the Downtown Women’s Center and the founding board chair of Wende Museum in Culver City.

Ratkovich also gave the American Contemporary Ballet its start in Los Angeles, and he was a co-chair of California Hospital Medical Center’s capital campaign.

There’s no doubt, DTLA could not have grown into the hospitality Mecca we see today if not for the life and times of Wayne Ratkovich. Not bad for a La Puente High School, and UCLA grad. Not bad at all.

Author: Keri Freeman

Military mom and proud parent, artist, writer, musician and film maker. Cocktail connoisseur. Publisher of DTLA Weekly.