Jerry B. Epstein was a tireless advocate for the community he helped create
By Joe Piasecki
Jerry B. Epstein, a founding father of Marina del Rey and its leading advocate for more than half a century, died last week at age 96. Though best-known
as the developer behind the towering Shores Apartments on Via Marina, Epstein’s legacy stretches far beyond brick and mortar.
Old-timers have doubtless heard the story of The Surge — a violent 1963 winter storm that destroyed much of the fledgling marina-in-progress and prompted many initial investors to call in their loans, including Epstein’s. Instead of giving up on his apartment complex Del Rey Shores, the World War II veteran put on his Army Reserve uniform, headed to Washington, and helped the Small Craft Harbor Commission convince Congress to fund the protective Marina del Rey breakwater.
As a member of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners in the 1970s, Epstein was the primary force in changing the LAX flight plan to prevent departing aircraft from making low turns directly over the harbor. Epstein also “pulled a lot of arms and did most of the frontline fighting” to get the Marina (90) Freeway completed, wrote Argonaut founder
David Asper Johnson in 1975, and to name it after the harbor instead of President Richard Nixon.
In the early 1980s Epstein led the charge to block development of a commercialized private harbor along Fiji Way in what’s now part of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Preserve, and in the 1990s he worked with county officials to plan the second-generation redevelopment of Marina del Rey. That work set the stage for Epstein’s early 2000s reconstruction of the Marina Harbor Apartments & Anchorage as a co-general partner, followed by the peak-Great Recession reinvention of his Del Rey Shores into the Shores Apartments — Epstein’s crowning development achievement.
“Jerry was responsible for protecting Marina del Rey not just in the 1960s, but again in the ’70s and the ’80s and the ’90s. He’s been the leading advocate for Marina del Rey since its inception,” said David O. Levine, who assumes continuity of management and ownership for Epstein’s interests in the marina. “He took the long view that anything which enhances the Marina del Rey experience is an asset to us as well.”
Levine has been president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association and Epstein’s right hand since the 1990s. A cousin of Epstein’s late wife Pat, Levine taught history at UCLA before Jerry (who did not have children in his 66-year marriage to Pat) recruited him into the family business.
“Jerry understood what Marina del Rey meant to Los Angeles, and he put his heart and soul into making it work,” said Willie Hjorth, one of the marina’s earliest residents and a founder of the Marina del Rey Historical Society, which honored Epstein with a lifetime achievement award in 2015. “He’s Mr. Marina del Rey to me.”
“He was level-headed, didn’t dig dirt … but he was no pushover. He was smart, strategic and evenhanded. He taught me how to navigate Marina del Rey,” said longtime area property manager Patricia Younis, who fondly recalls how Epstein, who was devoutly Jewish, would bring her a Christmas present every year.
Patty Hathaway, who co-founded California Yacht Club with her late husband Charles, also recalled Epstein bringing gifts to her family each Christmas.
“Jerry made you feel like you were his very best friend,” Hathaway said. “We knew he had thousands of very best friends, but Jerry made each one of them feel special.”
Outside of the marina, Epstein famously sued Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to prevent the sell-off of state-owned buildings in downtown Los Angeles — and won — after serving for decades on the Los Angeles State Building Authority.
Not quite as well-known is his 40-plus years of service on the St. John Health Center Foundation Board of Trustees. Epstein’s development experience was “invaluable” in construction of the new health center campus in Santa Monica, foundation President and CEO Robert O. Klein said.
Retired Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who worked with Epstein on marina affairs since 1980, recalled Epstein’s abiding love of country and gratitude for the opportunities it had provided him.
Epstein’s business office at Shores was a gallery of eagles, flags and ephemera of American history.
“Jerry loved Marina del Rey and he loved America,” Knabe said. “He was a true American patriot, and I hope everyone will get together and name something in the marina for Jerry.”