Known as the Duke of Art Deco, Dave Goldstein has made a profitable business out of his hobby of restoring vintage apartment buildings. His work is helping stabilize values in neighborhoods where film stars and future presidents once dwelled.

Los Angeles native Dave Goldstein, who is passionate about historic restoration, began collecting and restoring vintage apartment buildings 25 years ago. Today, he has a portfolio of 30-plus properties restored to their original condition—and a following of art deco and Hollywood groupies lining up to rent them.

Scattered in desirable neighborhoods from the Hollywood Hills to the Miracle Mile, Goldstein’s properties generate above-average rents, from about $1,300 for a “single”—which, in L.A. real estate parlance, is a one-room unit with a separate kitchen—to $3,800 for a three-bedroom unit. Although his properties are turning a profit, Goldstein contends that he is not in the rental business for the money. “It’s a hobby that got out of hand,” he says.

Unlike East Coast cities, Los Angeles has a limited number of significant apartment buildings left standing from the first half of the 20th century, so it is important to save them, Goldstein says. “Only a handful of owners are willing to treat them like the angels they are,” he notes. “Some were built during the [Great] Depression by European immigrants, which is why they look European.”

Known locally as the Duke of Art Deco, Goldstein treats his properties like works of art rather than real estate investments, restoring them with fastidious attention to detail—a trait carried over from his days of restoring old cars. “When you have something worth fixing up, it always blossoms into something wonderful,” he says.

“Dave has the soul of an artist, which is rare in a businessman,” observes John Desimio, a tenant at Mauretania, a 1930s classic moderne/art deco building in the Larchmont Village neighborhood that was designed by well-known local architect Milton J. Black.

Mauretania, a ten-unit building that received the 2009 award from the Hancock Park Historical Society for Most Significant Restoration, was erected in 1934 by actor Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Named for a White Star ocean liner that broke the transatlantic-crossing record in 1919, the edifice has curved windows that mirror the curve on the building facade.

It was briefly home to future President John F. Kennedy, who rented the penthouse during the 1960 Democratic Convention because it was secluded and provided a hideaway from the press. Over the years, Mauretania’s tenant roster has included film stars, supermodels, architects, rock musicians, and writers.

A number of Goldstein’s properties were previously owned or occupied by famous people, including President Ronald Reagan during his acting days. A display case in Mauretania’s lobby holds several mementos from Kennedy’s stay, including his typewriter, newspaper clippings, as well as a photo taken in the dining room with Kennedy; Pierre Salinger, a campaign aide who would become White House press secretary; actor Peter Lawford, who was Kennedy’s brother-in-law; and then–vice presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson.

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Entry gate at the Claridge. Charlie Chaplin
commissioned European craftsmen to build
this classic French Normandy project after
staying at the Hotel Claridge Paris on
a honeymoon.

Desimio, whose unit at Mauretania includes part of Kennedy’s old apartment, says he feels honored to live in the flagship property of Goldstein’s portfolio. “I really love this place,” he says, noting its sprawling layout, steel-framed windows that swing outward, and a huge deck with room for five tables and two dozen guests. “I’ve always wanted to live in a moderne/art deco building. This is a classic expression of that style. When I walk up the stairs, it infuses my spirit,” Desimio adds.

When Reagan lived at 1326 Londonderry in the Hollywood Hills, he fondly referred to the building as “Fort Londonderry.” He lived there during the 1930s with first wife, Jane Wyman, and moved back into the building in the 1950s with second wife, Nancy Reagan.

The building was originally owned by Argentine actor Alejandro Rey, who is best remembered for his role as the casino owner and playboy in the TV series The Flying Nun. It features penthouse-style units with city views all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a unique lobby/courtyard entrance, a doorman, and maid service included in rents.

Three 1930s Golden Era “themed” properties commissioned by actor Charlie Chaplin and Mack Sennett, a Canada-born director and an innovator of slapstick comedy in film, feel like Hollywood movie sets, Goldstein says.

Located in the Hollywood Hills on Beachwood Canyon Drive, Via Venita is a classic Venetian-style Italian villa. Over the years, many stars and industry veterans began their careers while living there.

“It’s so old Hollywood,” says Victoria England, who lives in a single at Via Venita, located within view of the Hollywood sign. She notes that in Hollywood’s heyday, the studios would send cars around in the morning to pick up actors living in the area, known then as Hollywoodland.

England’s unit “looks new vintage,” she says, noting its pristine condition when she moved in. It has the original beveled-glass entry door, high doorknobs, kitchen sink, and icebox, which she uses for storage.

Just up the street is the Moroccan, which was built to resemble a palace in, of course, Morocco. The building features turrets, French doors that open onto patios and balconies, antique lighting, and moldings throughout.

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Mauretania, a classic 1930s moderne/art deco apartment building designed by
acclaimed local architect Milton J. Black, has a nautical shape and
motif suggestive of the luxurious ocean liner of the same name.

Built by Chaplin in 1934 after staying at the Hotel Claridge Paris on a honeymoon, Claridge Apartments is a classic French Normandy structure on Franklin Avenue, near Beachwood Canyon and Bronson Canyon. The property, which features extra-large rooms and a serene environment with lush landscaping around a fountain, lies in the heart of Hollywood and within a short walk of shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and the subway station.

Goldstein suggests, however, that “restoring old properties is not a developer’s job, because you can’t do it one, two, three, and do it right. Most restoration is original materials, and that’s hard to do and turn a profit.” He says his properties are profitable only because he bought many of them 20 to 30 years ago at one-third today’s value.

Goldstein stockpiles old home parts, mostly from disassembled houses in the Midwest or from antique dealers, and has paid as much as $300 for the right doorknob. Occasionally, Goldstein must rebuild an irreplaceable element or custom-make parts.

He says he believes the features and technology of the unit should fit the period in which it was built, so there are no modern conveniences like dishwashers or hooded vents over stoves. Authenticity is important, but Goldstein often adds embellishments to a make a property more attractive or comfortable than the original version, which is why he does not apply for historic tax credits.

“I like making an apartment a home,” Goldstein continues. “When I get a building from the Depression era, I put glass in kitchen cabinets and might add leaded glass, antique light fixtures, wrought iron, a more established entry, security systems, sun decks on roofs, or patios,” he says.

Goldstein wants rear entries to look as good as front entries. For instance, he hired an artist to put murals on garages at one building to improve the view when entering from the rear. Such improvements would not be allowed under rules for historic property tax credits, he notes.

When Kelly Hine, an art director who designs movie posters for an advertising agency, decided to move into a 1920s-era, Spanish-style property in the Miracle Mile district, she sent Goldstein an introductory essay explaining that she lives in the past—in a healthy way. “I love everything retro, and Dave is the same kind of person,” she says. “I think creative people are drawn to his apartments because he takes extremely good care of his properties, all of which are unique and incredible.”

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The Morocca showcases the 1930 theme

Goldstein’s work has affected property values in the neighborhoods where they are located, points out John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. “It’s stabilizing to a neighborhood to have historic architecture retained . . . assets well-maintained. The neighborhood maintains a regal stature in terms of historic timeline.” Goldstein goes to great pains to make spaces efficient and charming while maintaining the historic integrity of both interiors and exteriors, Thomas notes.

“So much of Los Angeles is about the neighborhood, so preserving the character of neighborhoods is very important to the city,” says Adrian Scott Fine, director of the Advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. The city established 29 historic overlay zones, which have been hugely successful in retaining the character of these neighborhoods and sustaining property values, he notes.

“The great thing about L.A. is a lot of unique neighborhoods with really great apartments from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s mixed in,” Fine continues. “We have a diversity of people and incomes. Many [people] can’t afford to own a home, but can afford to live in a historic building. What Dave is doing, we need more of that.”