Nelson Rising, whose projects helped shape today’s California, dies

Developer was behind DTLA’s US Bank Tower, SF’s Mission Bay and many others

Nelson Rising
Nelson Rising (Rising Realty Partners)

Nelson Rising, a developer who mastered the art of political relationships and the science of skyscraper building, spearheading megaprojects such as Downtown Los Angeles’ U.S. Bank Tower, the neighborhood of Playa Vista and the revitalization of San Francisco’s Mission Bay, has died at 81.

Rising died Thursday of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, his family told the Los Angeles Times. In recent years, he had stepped into the background of his family real estate firm, Rising Realty Partners, which is now run by his son, Christopher Rising. 

“Nelson cared deeply about California and Californians, and his dynamic leadership and problem-solving brought together stakeholders from across the board to accomplish monumental feats,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told the Times.

Born in Queens, Rising attended UCLA on a football scholarship and went on to become a protégé of former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He went on to manage a senatorial campaign for John Tunney, a 36-year-old Democrat who prevailed against the odds. Rising parlayed that expertise into a cameo as a film producer, working on the 1972 film “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford. 

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In the 1980s and 1990s, Rising oversaw megaprojects for Maguire Thomas Partners, notably the development of Playa Vista, a West Side neighborhood that today is one of L.A.’s biggest tech hubs. He also spearheaded the rise of two of DTLA’s most prominent skyscrapers, U.S. Bank Tower and the Gas Company Tower. He struck out on his own in 2005, forming the precursor to Rising Realty with his son, Christopher Rising. 

“His mark is all over Downtown,” Tunney said of Rising for a 2017 profile in The Real Deal. “With his character, and with his grace, he is able to raise money for all of these projects because people trust him.”

Many of his projects were of a scale that attracted critics, for whom he had a simple riposte.

“Density is a good thing,” he told TRD in 2017. “If it is properly planned, it leads to civilized living.”

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