Angelo Sangiacomo liked to say he bought real estate and never sold it.
The legendary San Francisco landlord bought and built houses and apartment buildings all over San Francisco. Most of them, he kept.
“We never sell!” he once said. “You buy the son of a bitch and you hold onto it.”
Mr. Sangiacomo, who died Tuesday of undisclosed causes in his San Francisco home at the age of 91, bought his first property six decades ago with money he earned delivering newspapers to downtown office buildings. It was a small cottage near Ocean Beach. He subdivided it — burning his hands stripping the wallpaper in the process — and rented out units in it for $75 a month. He still owned the site when he died.
His family-owned company, Trinity Properties, owns and operates dozens of buildings and thousands of apartments all over town, from his native Richmond District to the tony tops of Pacific Heights, Russian Hill and Nob Hill. The company also owns several major properties around Union Square.
Trinity is continuing to develop Mr. Sangiacomo’s signature project, Trinity Place — a four-building complex with 1,900 apartments on the grounds of the former Del Webb Townhouse motel at Eighth and Market streets.
That complex, which has partially opened and is expected to be complete by 2017, was self-financed by Mr. Sangiacomo during the height of the recession, when bank loans for apartment complexes were hard to come by. It is the culmination of a long battle between Mr. Sangiacomo and city planners, who approved the development in 2007 in exchange for Mr. Sangiacomo’s agreement to maintain rent controls for the former tenants of the motel.
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“If I had it my way, I would have built a huge, tall, high-rise there,” Mr. Sangiacomo said in 2010. “I bought that thing (the motel) to tear it down.”
His career was not without controversy. Mr. Sangiacomo, who retained the reputation as a hard-nosed businessman throughout his life, came to be known as “the Father of Rent Control” for steep rent increases in the 1970s.
In his typically forthright manner, he once branded wealthy tenants who sought to lock in low rents as “Gucci-slipper kids,” and he regularly butted heads with rent control advocates and others at City Hall whose vision for San Francisco and for the real estate business did not match his own.
“I hit the pavement hard,” he liked to say.
Mr. Siangiacomo, the son of a contractor, grew up in a modest Richmond District flat. He turned to real estate after letting his father know he would not be joining him in the construction business because, as he would later enjoy relating, he would get a splinter every time he picked up a piece of lumber.
He was a graduate of McCoppin Elementary School and George Washington High School in San Francisco and the University of San Francisco, and served in the Navy in World War II.
A wiry, witty and energetic man, Mr. Sangiacomo attended Mass nearly every day at St. Brendan’s Church in San Francisco and swam laps at the Olympic Club. He enjoyed frequent family trips to Italy, Lake Tahoe and Pebble Beach. He owned property at each, including a castle outside Genoa, Italy.
He dined at a corner table at the Zuni Cafe where, with his glasses and profile, he was occasionally mistaken for film director Martin Scorsese.
Mr. Sangiacomo is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former actress Yvonne Giuntoli; seven children, Anna Kane, Sandro Sangiacomo, Jim Sangiacomo, Maryanne Sangiacomo, Mia Gaehwiler and Susan Sangiacomo, all of San Francisco, and Mark Sangiacomo of Newport Beach (Orange County); and 13 grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Memorial donations may be made to Little Sisters of the Poor of San Francisco or to Meals on Wheels of San Francisco.
Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: SRubenstein@sfchronicle.com