Ron Birtcher, developer whose projects included Pacific Design Center, dies

With his brother, built family firm into construction and development giant

Ron Birtcher and the Pacific Design Center
Ron Birtcher and the Pacific Design Center

Ronald Birtcher, lead developer of the Pacific Design Center Blue Building in West Hollywood, and co-head of a family construction and development business with projects across the country, died on April 21 in his home in Napa. He was 89.

The family announced his death.

Birtcher and his brother Arthur took over their father’s business, Birtcher Enterprises, in the late 1960s, building it into a powerhouse over the ensuing decades. Together, they went on to construct, develop, market and manage over 40 million square feet of commercial real estate across the country, according to a biography the family provided.

That work included prominent Los Angeles projects like the 760,000-square-foot Pacific Design Center Blue Building — or “Blue Whale” — which opened in 1975. The brothers got that project after forming a venture with Southern Pacific Railroad that made them its in-house development firm. It was built on a former railroad switching yard.

In the 1980s, Birtcher Enterprises would develop the 535,000-square-foot Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market in Downtown L.A., billed as the biggest market of its kind in the country.

The company regularly built properties in Orange County as well, including the 321,000-square-foot Xerox Centre in Santa Ana and 900,000-square-foot Lakeshore Towers office campus in Irvine.

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The firm liked to hold onto the buildings it developed. Despite the company’s large-scale projects, Ronald said the firm had a low tolerance for risk; he even called himself “a chicken” in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times. But that method seemed to work, and by time the brothers sold a 50 percent stake in Birtcher Enterprises to Mitsui & Co., the price was $100 million.

Beyond real estate, Ronald Birtcher’s business pursuits leaned toward agriculture and viticulture.

He owned a 110-acre date farm and packing operation in the Coachella Valley, along with a business cultivating and distributing protea flowers in Hawaii. He and his wife, Joanne, raised cabernet sauvignon grapes at their home, Meadowbrook Farm, in Napa Valley, where the fruit was utilized by the Robert Mondavi and Opus One brands, according to the family.

He supported various local organizations, including the Napa Valley Symphony Association and the Napa Valley Opera House. Birtcher was also involved with several philanthropic pursuits, the biggest being the Birtcher Family Foundation, a Presbyterian nonprofit that funded orphanages, schools, and farms around the world.

In addition to his wife of 68 years, he is survived by sons Brandon — CEO of Birtcher Development — and Baron, daughter Shelley; nine grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.