Douglas Shorenstein, the second-generation leader of one of San Francisco’s most prominent real estate development families, has died of cancer. He was 60.
Mr. Shorenstein, who was also a past chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, transformed Shorenstein Properties from a local developer to a national real estate group that raised money from large investors, including pension funds, and put it in office projects across the country. Over the past 20 years, the company has raised and invested
$7.9 billion in almost 60 million square feet of property in 24 markets, including iconic properties like Chicago’s John Hancock Tower and New York’s Park Avenue Tower.
Prior to joining the family business, founded by his father Walter Shorenstein, Mr. Shorenstein worked as a real estate attorney with the law firm of Shearman Sterling in New York. He joined his father in 1983 and became chairman and chief executive officer in 1995. Walter Shorenstein died in 2010.
For decades, the Shorenstein family was the biggest landlord in San Francisco’s Financial District — in the mid-1980s it controlled 25 percent of the city’s Class A office space. It built blue-chip office towers like the Bank of America building at 555 California St., 1 California St. and 50 California St., and was known for keeping its buildings full of tenants, even if it meant charging slightly less in rent than some of its competitors.
In the past five years, Mr. Shorenstein pushed the company to invest heavily in tech-friendly warehouse-style buildings, such as the vacant former Western Furniture Exchange and Merchandise Mart in San Francisco, which the group bought in March 2011. The gamble on the furniture mart building paid off when Twitter agreed to lease most of the building — today, the ground floor is bustling with a mix of restaurants, cafes and gourmet markets.
Mr. Shorenstein’s decision to buy the furniture mart, which had been mostly empty for a decade, is often cited as an early catalyst for revival of the Mid-Market and the Civic Center neighborhoods, a boom which has brought thousands of new housing units and lured major employers like Square and Dolby, attracted to the area by a city tax break.
“The decision to invest in rehabbing the Furniture Mart during the depth of the recession, when virtually all sources of capital were frozen and unavailable, was incredibly important and the kind of decision that very few people could have made,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of SPUR, an urban think tank.
In a 2012 interview with the San Francisco Business Times, Mr. Shorenstein said he was trying to respond to what tech tenants want in the current era, much as his father had catered to the tastes of the bankers and white-shoe lawyers with marble towers like the Bank of America building.
“My father started off as a leasing broker, and the essence of what he did was build and acquire properties that he could keep leased. That is our guiding principle today,” Mr. Shorenstein said at the time. “Everything we do today and everything we have done revolves around that concept. If we can’t lease it, it’s not going to be a good deal. If we can lease it and keep it leased through cycles, we’ll be fine. That was lesson No. 1 through 101.”
In addition, Shorenstein Properties has branched out into rental apartments in recent years. His family is currently building apartment towers in Denver and New York, as well as one on the 1000 block of Market Street. His firm built one of the first biotech buildings in Mission Bay and leased it to Fibrogen.
“Doug was part of one of the great San Francisco families that contributed as much as anyone has to the built environment of San Francisco that we know and love,” Metcalf said.
Mr. Shorenstein, who divided his time between San Francisco and New York, was a hands-on CEO who personally toured every building the company made an offer on. He loved to travel and collected Southeast Asian and Nepalese art with an emphasis on Khmer and Cambodian pieces.
Len Baker, a partner with financial consultants Sutter Hill Ventures, a Shorenstein Properties board member and friend of 20 years, said that Mr. Shorenstein “had this unbelievable instinctive intelligence for real estate.” He also held “great dinner parties with some really smart people” and was a staunch environmentalist who was a key player in shaping the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
“It was the two sides of him that made him such an interesting man,” Baker said. “He was a guy who wanted to do good for the world, but he wanted to do it in a very practical way.”
Walter and Douglas Shorenstein were leaders in the successful effort to keep the Giants in San Francisco, forming the group of investors in the early days of the effort, according to Giants President Larry Baer. In 1992, as the push to keep the Giants gained momentum, all the meetings took place in Shorenstein’s offices at 555 California St.
“It was Shorenstein’s lawyers and Shorenstein’s bankers,” said Baer. “There was an absolute devotion from Douglas and Walter not to let a San Francisco institution like the Giants leave. They played a huge, galvanizing role in bringing it all together. They were baseball fans but they were San Francisco fans beyond the baseball.”
Mr. Shorenstein graduated from UC at Berkeley and from the UC Hastings College of the Law. He was a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund, executive council of the UCSF Medical Center and on the advisory board of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
In a statement, his family said: “We are all deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved husband and father, Doug Shorenstein. As many of you know, Doug had been ill for some time, and he fought a courageous battle with his illness. Through it all, he maintained a positive and hopeful outlook, and he remained steadfastly focused on serving his family, his colleagues and his community. We miss him dearly already.”
Mr. Shorenstein is survived by his wife, Lydia; his children, Brendon, Sandra and Danielle Shorenstein; and sister, local theatrical producer Carol Shorenstein Hays.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m., Sunday at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street in San Francisco. The family suggests donations be made to the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF: UCSF Foundation, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, Calif., 94145.
J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sfjkdineen