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Real Estate Forum
November 1991

Living the
American Dream
With Real Estate
Artistry

By Patric Dolan
Editor, Real Estate Forum

   

IF ART IMITATES LIFE, especially in the art of real estate development, the three senior principals of Cali Associates might well have been suitable subjects for a Norman Rockwell painting or a Jack London adventure story.

Their rise to the heights of real estate development in New Jersey makes for a classic American tale: Two brothers—born the sons of an immigrant miner in the Colorado Rockies—and a boyhood pal stick together through the Great Depression and World War II, go to college and become educators. Dissatisfied, they try their hand at real estate—forming their own development firm and learning the business through trial and error.

   
  

The partners include brothers John J. (far left) and Angelo R. Cali (far right), their sons (standing by each) Brant and John R. Cali, and senior Cali's long-time friend and business associate Edward Leshowitz.

More than 40 years later, they stand today as one of the most recognizable development names in New Jersey, having built almost 4 million square feet of commercial space, more than 1 million square feet of industrial facilities, and well over 6,000 residential units, including homes, apartments and condominium townhouses.

Through a carefully composed business plan, the Calis have maintained a strong organization throughout the ups and downs of the real estate industry for more than four decades. The result has been a well-managed company that has maintained strong relationships with tenants and lenders and stands well poised for growth for the remainder of the decade.

The Cali organization—led by brothers John and Angelo Cali, long-time business associate and friend Edward Leshowitz, and the Cali brothers’ sons, John R. and Brant Cali—has recently completed a number of significant new office developments in the Garden State and is emphasizing its personal approach to tenant relations. At its signature International Financial Tower on the Hudson River waterfront in Jersey City, for instance, not only did Cali secure a 50% prelease of the building from the Pershing Division of New York City-based Donaldson, Lufkin, Jenrette Securities Corporation, it also attracted NTT Data Communications Systems Corporation’s first data center ever built outside of Japan. The NTT relationship has been a strong one, with John J. Cali and son Brant subsequently traveling to Japan for an eight-day stay with company officials.

Such prestigious tenants continue to find Cali buildings attractive, in large part because of the organization’s attention to detail in everything from architecture to the latest in amenities. The company emphasizes a hands-on management approach, with its principals involved in the day-to-day concerns of building operations and tenant relations, as well as overseeing state-of-the-art upgrades of its existing buildings and scouting local markets for new business.

Specifically, Cali is exploring new opportunities for built-to-suit projects, third-party management and retail development. The Cali name, and its association with quality office properties, has also led to some noteworthy associations with important investment players in New Jersey. The company was selected by the Kean family to develop the two-building Liberty Hall office complex in Union, N.J. It also has been selected by shipping magnate D.K. Ludwig to develop the 53-acre Harsimus Cove South site along the Hudson River in Jersey City.


   

Cali's signature International Financial Tower was 50% preleased to Donaldson, Lufkin, Jenrette Securities.

   

And the firm currently is exploring opportunities with the Marriott Corporation to develop a retirement community, with the Hahn Company to develop a major retail center, and with the New York Giants professional football team to construct a new practice facility.

Such impressive success was not readily apparent, however, when the Cali brothers and their boyhood friend first started out in the business. To understand why Cali today is being sought out by major corporate tenants and powerful investment concerns, and has been able to maintain personal as well as business relationships with them, a look at the company’s humble beginnings is apropos. In short, the Cali principals are anything but pretentious.

John J. and Angelo Cali’s father emigrated. to America from his native Sicily in 1901, and finding New York not to his liking, headed west until he reached the Rocky Mountains. There, he found landscape that reminded him of his native home,and he began his new life in America as a miner.

"The first place he worked in was a Shangrila," recalls Angelo Cali, who along with younger brother John J. was born in a tiny mining camp nestled between two mountain canyons. It was an adventurous and a hard life at first, Angelo recalls. "My mother used to bake bread in an outdoor oven and the aroma would attract the local Indians who came down from the mountains. So she taught them how to make bread, and they taught her how to make tortillas. It was that kind of environment."

Despite earning a good living as a contractor opening and closing mine faces, the senior Mr. Cali never got the stake he felt he deserved. The family moved several times and eventually decided to move back East and live with a relative in Passaic, NJ. at the beginning of the depression. It was in Passaic that young Angelo Cali was befriended by one Edward Leshowitz.

"He literally took me by the hand, and it was a good thing too," says Angelo. "Our mountain camp in Colorado had maybe 100 houses, and I came to a high school in Passaic with 2,000 people in it. Talk about a culture shock."

Angelo Cali and Ed Leshowitz maintained their friendship throughout high school. They attended Montclair (NJ.) State College together and trained to be teachers, but were separated in the service during World War II. "I was with the First Army and he was with the First Armored Division," Mr. Leshowitz recalls. "We met at one point in a small town in Belgium that 24 hours after we left was overrun by the Germans in their last offensive."

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