Adored L.A. Developer Wayne Ratkovich Dies at 82

The businessman is credited with saving historic landmarks throughout Los Angeles, including The Wiltern and the Oviatt Building

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Wayne Ratkovich.
Wayne Ratkovich. The Ratkovich Company

Real estate developer Wayne Ratkovich, credited with saving landmarks throughout Los Angeles, died on Sunday, Sept. 24, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center due to complications from an aortic aneurysm. He was 82.

Ratkovich’s real estate firm, The Ratkovich Company, for which he is best known, announced his death. The company said Ratkovich “saw the future in a piece of the past,” and that his reach extends from the San Gabriel Valley to the skyscrapers of Downtown L.A., and from the coastline of Playa Vista to San Pedro.

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Wayne Ratkovich was born on May 29, 1941, in Los Angeles, and attended UCLA, where he played defensive end for the football team. He founded and was CEO of The Ratkovich Company, through which he reimagined and restored numerous landmark projects, including 18 historic buildings throughout the Los Angeles area. 

The firm started in industrial real estate until Ratkovich got the opportunity to buy the 12-story Oviatt Building from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for about $5 per square foot in 1977. Rather than demolish the structure and operate the property more profitably as a parking lot — which is what the sellers expected — Ratkovich determined the building should be renovated. The upgrades were successful in attracting new tenants, including the renowned Rex Il Ristorante, and the project put The Ratkovich Company on the map. 

“The experience with the Oviatt changed forever my role as a developer,” Ratkovich said in 2020. “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.”

Ratkovich also saved the historic Pellissier Building and adjoining Wiltern Theatre, which opened in the 1930s as the flagship movie house for Warner Bros. on Wilshire Boulevard, but fell into disrepair by the late 1970s. Preservationists saved the property from the wrecking ball until Ratkovich could purchase it in 1981 and begin a four-year renovation. Today, it remains a treasured performance venue for Angelenos to see top artists from around the world.

TRC would go on to reimagine more landmark projects throughout the area, including The Fine Arts Building, Chapman Market, a 30-story office tower across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and a 40-acre mixed-use development called The Alhambra in the San Gabriel Valley. One of the firm’s most notable developments is The Bloc, a dramatic transformation of the former Macy’s Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles. Ratkovich is also responsible for the Hercules Campus in Playa Vista, an 11-building complex of historic former Hughes Aircraft Company hangars that today counts Google as its main tenant.

“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.”

The firm’s latest project is a 42-acre site on the Los Angeles waterfront in San Pedro that it’s redeveloping into a project called West Harbor. Ratkovich helped convince the iconic Hollywood restaurant Yamashiro to open its first-ever satellite location at that property.

Brian Saenger, president and CEO of The Ratkovich Company, said Wayne Ratkovich was a brilliant businessman and true visionary who “had a unique ability to focus on how a real estate development will catalyze a community — 20 plus years down the road, not just today.”

“Wayne’s impact on Los Angeles is evident to anyone who looks at DTLA and many of the historic buildings across our region,” Saenger said. “His legacy of kindness, compassion and vision will live on in the projects he built and the company he founded.”

Ratkovich is survived by his wife JoAnn (whom he married in 1967), son Milan, daughters Anna and Lindsay, and five grandchildren.

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.