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Real Estate

Fred Nicholas started in the real estate business in 1956 when he met Maurice O. Smith (Hap Smith) a real estate broker who was involved in minor real estate transactions on the west side of Los Angeles.

Hap Smith was referred to Nicholas as a real estate attorney at Loeb & Loeb. He needed a lawyer to prepare an option agreement for property in Fremont, California. However, Hap Smith was unable to pay the legal fee and Loeb & Loeb refused to accept him as a client. Nicholas and Hap Smith had become immediate friends and Nicholas prepared the option agreement on his free time without charge. Smith also was unable to raise the down payment for the option agreement and Nicholas raised the funds among his family and friends. Hap Smith invited Nicholas to become his partner and they formed a partnership known as The Hapsmith Company in 1956, because Nicholas was practicing law and did not want his name on the partnership.

The Hapsmith Company’s first project was the development of a community shopping center in Fremont California with the second Mervyns store ever built as the one anchor tenant and Sears the other. The Center was a success and expanded into phase II. After many years of operation, the Center was exchanged for a 50% interest in a twin AMFAC tower office complex in downtown Honolulu, which The Hapsmith Company owned and operated for more than 10 years.

Other real estate projects followed in rapid order; Eastridge Shopping Center in San Jose; Tanforan Park in San Bruno, CA; Montebello Mart, CA; Brea-Imperial Shopping Center, Brea, CA; Norwood Shopping Center in Sacramento, CA; Union Bank Center, Los Angeles, CA; Weberstown Shopping Center in Stockton, CA; Stimson Business Center, Los Angeles, CA; Wilshire Rexford Building, Beverly Hills, CA; The SuperMall of the Great Northwest in Auburn, WA; the Culver Center, in Culver City, CA; and the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C.

Hap Smith died in 1975, and Nicholas formed a corporation called The Hapsmith Company and has continued to develop and own shopping centers, as it has since 1956.

In 1989, during the last year of the Reagan Administration, the US Government announced plans for the development of a building on the last remaining parcel in the Federal Triangle. The Building was to be named “The International Trade and Cultural Center,” and to be built by the winner of a competition among the best developers in the United States. More than 15 major developers competed for the project. A group formed by Frederick M. Nicholas, Larry Silverstein of New York and Bill Zeckendorf, known as the “Zeckendorf Group,” was named the winner in 1989. The Zeckendorf Group hired the Architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed to design the project estimated to cost $600,000,000.

It took almost 10 years to complete the 3,100,000 sq. ft project, the largest building in Washington D.C., next to the Pentagon.

By the time the building was completed the Zeckendorf Group had run out of money, and could not finish with the Tenant Improvements. Fred Nicholas met with Republican Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robert Dole, and asked “what will it take to get the Senate to authorize the payment of the necessary funds to complete this project.” Senator Dole responded “change the name of the building to Ronald Reagan.” Nicholas immediately agreed, and the building is now named “the Ronald Reagan Building.”

When President Clinton took office he called the Zeckendorf Group to the White House, and requested that the building be enlarged to include a Cultural Wing and Auditorium. However, the Group advised that it was too late to expand the building. The Ronald Reagan Building was dedicated by President Clinton and Nancy Reagan in May 1998; the final cost was over $900,000,000. Three Presidents were in office during the construction of the Building; Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.


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