News

Developer Harold Hohbach dies at 96

Known for mixed-use projects and unusual art, Hohbach helped changed the look of the California Avenue Business District

Harold Hohbach, a patent attorney and developer whose mixed-use projects and whimsical art helped transform the area around California Avenue, died on Dec. 28 at his home in Atherton, according to various sources. He was 96.

Known for his dogged persistence, his irascible nature, his uncompromising style and his deep appreciation for Silicon Valley's legacy of innovation, Hohbach spent more than 40 years working as an investor, attorney and developer, with a focus on the California Avenue Business District. His recent projects included 195 Page Mill Road, which featured 82 apartments and research-and-development space, and the Birch Plaza project at 305 Grant Ave., which has eight apartments and office space.

Other prominent Hohbach projects include Sheridan Apartments, which he constructed in the mid-1990s and which is perhaps best known for its public art: a fountain sculpture that graces the courtyard of Caffé Riace and features a classical nude lifting a washing machine over her head.

Born on a farm in South Dakota, Hohbach was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and rode a horse-and-buggy to school, according to the family's obituary. He then enrolled in South Dakota State University, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering, according to his son, Douglas Hohbach. In 1943, after he earned his degree, Hohbach joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and spent part of World War II as a first lieutenant in Germany and North Africa.

Upon his return, he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley on the GI bill and earned a business degree, Douglas Hohbach said. He later earned a law degree. And while many in Palo Alto associate him primarily with developments, Hohbach's primary job was as a patent attorney -- a job he held until well into his 80s.

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Those who worked with Hohbach cited his loyalty, determination and stubborn streak. Susan McKay, manager of Park Plaza, a Hohbach project, described him as the kind of a man whose "handshake meant a lot." He had been developing since the 1950s and never retired from the company. She said Hohbach died at home, surrounded by his family.

McKay said Hohbach was "well-known for his loyalty and long business relationships," some of which stretched back more than four decades. And she said he will be remembered for his indelible personality.

"He had his own vision about things and was very clear about it," McKay said. "That could promote some pushback because everyone has an opinion. Harold was one of those people who was sure his opinion was right."

Palo Alto officials were far less certain. In the early 1970s, Hohbach became a limited partner in a team that was looking to build a 10-story office building called Court House Plaza at 260 Sheridan Ave.

The project was in the planning phase in 1974, when the city adopted its 50-foot height limit for new developments, a restriction that reduced the project to a four-story office complex.

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During the 16-year legal battle over the project, city officials got a taste of Hohbach's determined, uncompromising style. In 1978, Hohbach rejected the city's proposed compromise that would have allowed an eight-story building. According to reports at the time, Hohbach was concerned about wasting the 300-ton cache of steel he had purchased to construct the 10-story building.

View a map showing all the developments Hohbach helped build in the California Avenue Business District here.

Undaunted, he appealed the city's decision five times -- twice to the California Supreme Court and three times to the U.S. Supreme Court -- to no avail.

Hohbach also sued the city in 2010 over Park Plaza, the project at 195 Page Mill that he first proposed in 2005. After years of delays and a lawsuit from project opponents, Hohbach filed his own suit in a federal court. Hohbach, who was 88 at the time, argued in his claim that the city was unreasonably delaying the final approval of the project, and "destroying" Hohbach's ability to complete the project "in light of his advanced age." (The mixed-use project ultimately won the council's approval in 2012.)

Though Hohbach rarely attended council meetings or community events, preferring to work behind the scenes, the few interviews he gave suggested that his "advanced age" rarely strayed far from his mind. In a 1995 interview with the Weekly, he reflected on the fact that he would not live forever.

"I'd like to think I have all the time in the world," Hohbach, then 73, told the Weekly. "But I don't."

He also noted at the time that he has no plans to retire. Ever. ("Let other people retire," he said. "Not me.") He never swerved from that position. McKay said he worked up until the end and his mind was always "sharp as a tack."

Douglas Hohbach said the Court House Plaza project was his father's first venture into development. Once he became involved in the California Avenue Business District, Hohbach found other opportunities in the area for new developments.

The younger Hohbach said many viewed his father as a "tenacious" developer -- a quality that also applied to him in his personal life. It was these qualities that led him to surmount economic challenges and political opposition.

"He worked hard; he didn’t give up and kept going at things," Douglas Hohbach said. "In his personal life, he wasn't vastly different from that appearance because it did take someone with real tenaciousness in that period to build rental housing, which he did."

Others who knew Hohbach agreed with that assessment. Isaac Arman, who works in Hohbach Realty's accounting department, said he worked regularly with Hohbach, up until two days before Hohbach's death.

His gruff persona notwithstanding, Hohbach really cared about his employees and took time to assist them with personal problems, Arman told the Weekly. He described Hohbach as a tough person and an honest one.

"He didn’t want people overcharging him," Arman said. "And if anyone tried to take advantage of him, he knew it."

Those who knew Hohbach also pointed to his admiration for those innovators who turned Silicon Valley into the world's pre-eminent tech hub. He had served on the board of the early venture capital firm, Sutter Hill Capital. He also helped support several startup companies, including manufacturers of medical devices, Douglas Hohbach said.

Marcus Wood, a broker who worked with Hohbach for decades, called Hohbach a "great man without trying to be one." Elizabeth Alexis, an acquaintance of Hohbach, said he was "an interesting guy who had a genuine admiration for inventors."

"His main career was as a patent attorney, and he was serious about building R&D space in his later career as a developer," Alexis said.

Late in his life, Hohbach also began to set up a foundation to further encourage innovators. Still in its nascent phase, the new foundation will commemorate Silicon Valley inventors and encourage others to "take that inventor and innovator perspective," Douglas Hohbach said.

Hohbach is survived by his wife, Marilyn; his sisters, Lorraine, Carol and Sharon; and his children and their spouses, Douglas (Kay), Janet (Chris) and Ellen (Lance).

According to Menlo Church, a memorial service for Harold Hohbach is planned for 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2.

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Developer Harold Hohbach dies at 96

Known for mixed-use projects and unusual art, Hohbach helped changed the look of the California Avenue Business District

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 5, 2018, 2:47 am
Updated: Fri, Jan 5, 2018, 4:51 pm

Harold Hohbach, a patent attorney and developer whose mixed-use projects and whimsical art helped transform the area around California Avenue, died on Dec. 28 at his home in Atherton, according to various sources. He was 96.

Known for his dogged persistence, his irascible nature, his uncompromising style and his deep appreciation for Silicon Valley's legacy of innovation, Hohbach spent more than 40 years working as an investor, attorney and developer, with a focus on the California Avenue Business District. His recent projects included 195 Page Mill Road, which featured 82 apartments and research-and-development space, and the Birch Plaza project at 305 Grant Ave., which has eight apartments and office space.

Other prominent Hohbach projects include Sheridan Apartments, which he constructed in the mid-1990s and which is perhaps best known for its public art: a fountain sculpture that graces the courtyard of Caffé Riace and features a classical nude lifting a washing machine over her head.

Born on a farm in South Dakota, Hohbach was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and rode a horse-and-buggy to school, according to the family's obituary. He then enrolled in South Dakota State University, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering, according to his son, Douglas Hohbach. In 1943, after he earned his degree, Hohbach joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and spent part of World War II as a first lieutenant in Germany and North Africa.

Upon his return, he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley on the GI bill and earned a business degree, Douglas Hohbach said. He later earned a law degree. And while many in Palo Alto associate him primarily with developments, Hohbach's primary job was as a patent attorney -- a job he held until well into his 80s.

Those who worked with Hohbach cited his loyalty, determination and stubborn streak. Susan McKay, manager of Park Plaza, a Hohbach project, described him as the kind of a man whose "handshake meant a lot." He had been developing since the 1950s and never retired from the company. She said Hohbach died at home, surrounded by his family.

McKay said Hohbach was "well-known for his loyalty and long business relationships," some of which stretched back more than four decades. And she said he will be remembered for his indelible personality.

"He had his own vision about things and was very clear about it," McKay said. "That could promote some pushback because everyone has an opinion. Harold was one of those people who was sure his opinion was right."

Palo Alto officials were far less certain. In the early 1970s, Hohbach became a limited partner in a team that was looking to build a 10-story office building called Court House Plaza at 260 Sheridan Ave.

The project was in the planning phase in 1974, when the city adopted its 50-foot height limit for new developments, a restriction that reduced the project to a four-story office complex.

During the 16-year legal battle over the project, city officials got a taste of Hohbach's determined, uncompromising style. In 1978, Hohbach rejected the city's proposed compromise that would have allowed an eight-story building. According to reports at the time, Hohbach was concerned about wasting the 300-ton cache of steel he had purchased to construct the 10-story building.

View a map showing all the developments Hohbach helped build in the California Avenue Business District here.

Undaunted, he appealed the city's decision five times -- twice to the California Supreme Court and three times to the U.S. Supreme Court -- to no avail.

Hohbach also sued the city in 2010 over Park Plaza, the project at 195 Page Mill that he first proposed in 2005. After years of delays and a lawsuit from project opponents, Hohbach filed his own suit in a federal court. Hohbach, who was 88 at the time, argued in his claim that the city was unreasonably delaying the final approval of the project, and "destroying" Hohbach's ability to complete the project "in light of his advanced age." (The mixed-use project ultimately won the council's approval in 2012.)

Though Hohbach rarely attended council meetings or community events, preferring to work behind the scenes, the few interviews he gave suggested that his "advanced age" rarely strayed far from his mind. In a 1995 interview with the Weekly, he reflected on the fact that he would not live forever.

"I'd like to think I have all the time in the world," Hohbach, then 73, told the Weekly. "But I don't."

He also noted at the time that he has no plans to retire. Ever. ("Let other people retire," he said. "Not me.") He never swerved from that position. McKay said he worked up until the end and his mind was always "sharp as a tack."

Douglas Hohbach said the Court House Plaza project was his father's first venture into development. Once he became involved in the California Avenue Business District, Hohbach found other opportunities in the area for new developments.

The younger Hohbach said many viewed his father as a "tenacious" developer -- a quality that also applied to him in his personal life. It was these qualities that led him to surmount economic challenges and political opposition.

"He worked hard; he didn’t give up and kept going at things," Douglas Hohbach said. "In his personal life, he wasn't vastly different from that appearance because it did take someone with real tenaciousness in that period to build rental housing, which he did."

Others who knew Hohbach agreed with that assessment. Isaac Arman, who works in Hohbach Realty's accounting department, said he worked regularly with Hohbach, up until two days before Hohbach's death.

His gruff persona notwithstanding, Hohbach really cared about his employees and took time to assist them with personal problems, Arman told the Weekly. He described Hohbach as a tough person and an honest one.

"He didn’t want people overcharging him," Arman said. "And if anyone tried to take advantage of him, he knew it."

Those who knew Hohbach also pointed to his admiration for those innovators who turned Silicon Valley into the world's pre-eminent tech hub. He had served on the board of the early venture capital firm, Sutter Hill Capital. He also helped support several startup companies, including manufacturers of medical devices, Douglas Hohbach said.

Marcus Wood, a broker who worked with Hohbach for decades, called Hohbach a "great man without trying to be one." Elizabeth Alexis, an acquaintance of Hohbach, said he was "an interesting guy who had a genuine admiration for inventors."

"His main career was as a patent attorney, and he was serious about building R&D space in his later career as a developer," Alexis said.

Late in his life, Hohbach also began to set up a foundation to further encourage innovators. Still in its nascent phase, the new foundation will commemorate Silicon Valley inventors and encourage others to "take that inventor and innovator perspective," Douglas Hohbach said.

Hohbach is survived by his wife, Marilyn; his sisters, Lorraine, Carol and Sharon; and his children and their spouses, Douglas (Kay), Janet (Chris) and Ellen (Lance).

According to Menlo Church, a memorial service for Harold Hohbach is planned for 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2.

Comments

Confused
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 9:05 am
Confused, Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 9:05 am
12 people like this

[Post removed.]


maditalian_1492
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:06 am
maditalian_1492, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:06 am
4 people like this

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


jc
Mayfield
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:38 am
jc, Mayfield
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:38 am
1 person likes this

Dear Confused,

How very unkind your post is considering "you didn't know the man".

Many of us did know him.


Confused
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:48 am
Confused, Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 10:48 am
11 people like this

Dear Meditalion -

Of course he should be memorialized. And I am sure he had good points and bad points, as does anyone. But my comments have to do with the fact that this seems a rather fawning and lengthy piece on a guy who, as admitted by the writer of the piece, wanted little to do with getting to know the leaders in the community or participate in community events. His main interest in development seemed to be to get big and sue as often as possible. As a former member of a major City Board, I know most everyone - and this guy was unknown to me. And this article tops the daily Palo Alto Online newsletter.

Given the number of notable people who pass on every year in this City, and the fact their memorials are rarely this long, positive, or placed, it just seemed a little odd. I am sure there is a back story here. Maybe this was written by a new intern looking to show how well they could write.....

No disrespect meant to his family - I am sure he will be missed - but sometimes with a local paper you wonder why things get covered or do not in the manner they do.


Chris Gaither
Mayfield
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:10 am
Chris Gaither, Mayfield
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:10 am
14 people like this

Dear Confused,

Mr. Hohbach was very engaged in Palo Alto. His office as an attorney was in Palo Alto, and you could see him working on his properties in Palo Alto, even doing his own landscaping at times. He just happened to own a home in Atherton. He was very dedicated to the California area of Palo Alto. Also, he was a person who would do anything for anyone. He once helped me when I had no where else to turn. I will never forget that leap of trust. RIP Harold.


rememerance
Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:11 am
rememerance, Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:11 am
10 people like this

Let him be remembered by that hideous, meaningless sculpture of a woman holding a washing machine over her head.

Can it be removed now, please?


DeveloperFoe
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:43 am
DeveloperFoe, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 5, 2018 at 11:43 am
13 people like this

I believe he was the motivating force behind the provision of the "public" plaza at the building housing Caffe Riace, in exchange for variances in approval of that building. That plaza was subsequently taken over by Caffe Riace as its outdoor dining space. Time to reacquire that space for its intended public uses, not as a freebie for that restaurant.


anon
Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2018 at 12:30 pm
anon, Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2018 at 12:30 pm
12 people like this

the article says......

"Other prominent Hohbach projects include Sheridan Apartments, which he constructed in the mid-1990s and which is perhaps best known for its public art: a fountain sculpture that graces the courtyard of Caffé Riace and features a classical nude lifting a washing machine over her head."

excuse me.......I believe most sentient beings in PA know that in fact that courtyard/plaza was intended to be a public benefit that was agreed upon in exchange for a project that exceeded the development standards in the zone , which was intended for the PUBLIC to use, not a private use for cafe Riacce.

The fact that the public Plaza has morphed into a private plaza to be used only by the cafe for their financial benefit is in defiance of the intent of the law and shows the moral ineptitude of those who enforce the laws of our city.


Beth
Southgate
on Jan 5, 2018 at 1:29 pm
Beth, Southgate
on Jan 5, 2018 at 1:29 pm
17 people like this

As a tenant in one of Mr. Hohbach's apartment buildings, I dearly hope that, with his passing, the new owner(s) will hire a management company to take care of his residential properties and respond promptly to resident issues and complaints. While the apartments are beautiful and the location is wonderful, the tenants have long suffered from the consequences of Mr. Hohbach's position that HE was the management company.


Disappointed
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2018 at 1:40 pm
Disappointed , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2018 at 1:40 pm
2 people like this

[Post removed.]


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2018 at 3:05 pm
3 people like this

You folks are newbies. It wasn't just the buildings, it was the process. This is how I remember Harold Hohbach:

Web Link


Confused
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 4:47 pm
Confused, Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2018 at 4:47 pm
18 people like this

Why does freedom of speech only apply to Bill Johnson on this site? One of the main reasons I will NOT subscribe to this site is the censorship on comments. I agree that on occasion comments can get very negative. But, you either accept this process or you shut comments down altogether. If you say negative things about someone Bill likes, you get censored. You say positive things, you are let through the gates.

There is nothing wrong with bringing up issues that people feel are important. Nothing in any of these comments that were censored was personal - frankly it was all about public issues and public matters. All worth discussing in the public arena.

Why did you write such a glowing review on this man? When people ask questions - why do you censor them? I think the official censor of the Palo Alto Weekly may have the thinnest skin of all in town.....


Scotty
Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm
Scotty, Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm
10 people like this

All lives should be celebrated. I believe the author did a disservice by sharing a little tmi on the man. He was who he was. Don't blame the shark. That said, why would pa online continue to censor comments that their articles create. Confused brought up some great points that should be addressed before writing such an article.


John
Triple El
on Jan 6, 2018 at 3:32 pm
John, Triple El
on Jan 6, 2018 at 3:32 pm
2 people like this

I ask those who express concern about the legal basis for Caffe Riace appropriating a public plaza and using as a private dining space whether they have the same opinion about the City of Palo Alto narrowing California Avenue and widening the sidewalks so that restaurant owners can block the sidewalk and use the space to increase the footprint of their businesses. I understand that some residents see such a use as a 'public benefit.' Has this already been discussed at length before?


so called public benefits
Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2018 at 7:56 pm
so called public benefits, Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2018 at 7:56 pm
1 person likes this

Caffe Riace appropriates a public plaza in the same way that Doug Ross installed 2 so-called public plazas at the corners of 800 High Street. The corner at Homer is taken over by a restaurant, and the corner at Channing has large concrete planters taking up the space keeping the public out.
It is all part of the city's contractor giveaways. They pretend it is a Public Benefit in return for giving the developer a profitable PC zone, then let the developer use it for himself.
The city has been using this subterfuge for a long time.


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