President Donald Trump is traveling today to Los Angeles, a city he has scrutinized over the last week for its growing, highly visible homeless population. He’s here to raise money for his reelection campaign—and according to AP, he’ll do that tonight at the Beverly Hills home of prolific developer Geoffrey Palmer.
Palmer is one of the biggest names in Los Angeles real estate—he has built thousands of apartments in Downtown, and he started doing it at a time when other builders and investors overlooked the neighborhood.
With few exceptions, he has built the same building dozens of times: massive, stylistically derivative Mediterranean-inspired apartment complexes that seem to defy every rule of good design and urban planning. Palmer himself has described them as “fortress-like.”
The building styles are a tribute to LA’s Italian communities. Palmer told Los Angeles Magazine in 2014 that “the Italians actually settled LA before the Spanish and Chinese.” (It was Spanish settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1781, for the record).
With names like Da Vinci, Medici, and Orsini, the imposing buildings take up full city blocks and wrap around interior courtyards, doing very little to encourage outward engagement with the communities. Some have private skybridges for tenants to avoid “potential incidents that could occur during the evening hours when the homeless population is more active.” Most of their street-level retail spaces sit empty.
The apartments are marketed as having “breath-taking” architecture with “inspiring statues” and “charming” environments, with such amenities as spas, yoga and dance studios, virtual simulation rooms and movie theaters. Studios rent from $1,800.
Palmer has also been criticized by local environmental experts for putting housing with open-air balconies dangerously near LA’s freeways. As Marc Haefele wrote in Los Angeles Magazine, many are built so close to freeways, you feel like you can touch them from the passenger seat.
In December 2014 one of Palmer’s largest developments, the Da Vinci, was set on fire when it was under construction, burning the wood framing to the ground. The city brought a $20 million suit against Palmer for the fire’s destruction to nearby buildings, settling in 2017 for $400,000.
Work is underway now on Palmer’s largest LA project yet. Named “Ferrante,” it’s rising on nearly 10 acres bounded by Temple, Beaudry, and the 110 Freeway. The 1,150 apartments are scheduled to open next year, according to Palmer’s website.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Palmer paid the city nearly $3 million to “get out of affordable-housing requirements” in one project and “to convert some moderate-rate rentals in an existing building into market-rate ones.”
In 2009, he successfully sued the city to avoid putting affordable units in his Piero II apartment complex.
Palmer hasn’t granted an in-person interview in more than a decade, but through emails with reporters, he has defended the production of upscale apartments, saying they encourage neighborhood growth. In a 2004 interview with the Downtown News, his company’s vice president, Peter Novak, said the city should change its approach “to the production of market-rate apartments, which is by definition affordable housing.”
Palmer grew up in Los Angeles. He is the son of Dan Saxon Palmer, the modernist architect who teamed up with William Krisel in the 1950s to design custom homes in Palm Springs. Their aim, according to Krisel’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times, was to “create good, decent contemporary housing that was affordable for the masses.”
Today, Geoff Palmer owns two homes in Malibu and two in Beverly Hills, including one labeled on Google Maps as “Palmers Court”; it’s a five-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot residence valued at $6 million.
Time will tell whether Palmer will earn an architectural record as distinguished as his father’s.But he’s leaving a big mark on Los Angeles—and he’s made a lot of money doing it. In 2016, he donated at least $2 million to a Super PAC supporting Trump known as Rebuilding America Now. And that’s presumably why he’ll be the host of tonight’s dinner.