John Ritchie, real estate agent, city planner, dies at 89

John Ritchie, a San Francisco planning commissioner during the downtown building boom of the early 1970s and a figure in downtown real estate for more than 50 years, has died at 89.

He died Thursday at a Veterans Administration hospice unit overlooking Ocean Beach after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Ritchie joined Coldwell Banker and Co. in San Francisco in 1950 and soon became a top salesman. A few years later, he and a fellow broker formed their own firm, Robbins and Ritchie, specializing in industrial and commercial properties.

The brokerage eventually was reorganized as Ritchie and Ritchie and grew to have offices throughout the Bay Area and in San Diego and Portland, Ore. In 1966, Mr. Ritchie was elected president of the San Francisco Real Estate Board.

When Joe Alioto was elected mayor in 1968, he appointed Mr. Ritchie, his neighbor in the Presidio Terrace neighborhood, to the Planning Commission. He served for both of Alioto’s terms.

His city planning service coincided with the growth of the Financial District, including the approval of the Transamerica Pyramid, the Bank of America building, Embarcadero Center and other major additions to the skyline.

He also served on the city’s first Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, appointed by Mayor John Shelley in 1967. Mayor Dianne Feinstein named him to another term in 1979, and in all, Mr. Ritchie spent 12 years on the panel.

Mr. Ritchie was born at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where his father served on the faculty. He graduated from Yale and moved west to join his parents, who had settled in the Presidio.

He was also a noted car collector, a hobby he developed after discovering an old vehicle in a junkyard in Big Sur. It turned out to be an extremely rare 1935 Brewster Opera Car that had been owned by Charlie Chaplin.

Mr. Ritchie’s collection grew to include a 1933 Cadillac, a 1935 Auburn, a 1935 Hupmobile and a 1937 Graham. He often entered the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance vintage-car show.

His other great passion was California history, and he served as president of the California Historical Society.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Suzanne; his children, Randolph, Charlotte, Mark and Tori; and two granddaughters. At his request, the memorial will be a private family gathering in Honolulu.

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