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The Last Tycoon 

Walter Shorenstein's skyscrapers shaped San Francisco. His cash configured City Hall. Publicly, he's pristine. But there's more than meets the eye to the man behind the megaliths.

Wednesday, May 10 1995
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Page 4 of 5

Walter Shorenstein, the person, is 80 years old. When he's in the city, he lives in Sea Cliff. The house is modest, as millionaires' mansions go. It is tan, stuccoed and shuttered on the street side. Of course, Walter Shorenstein doesn't need a fancy home. He can point out all the tall buildings he owns - even better, he can ride the elevators up into them and literally look down on everyone else in the city.

At his house, he's at the ground level. The entrance is protected: an iron gate, greenery, the warning sign posted by an alarm company. Turn your head as you pass his residence, however, and you can see from the street through the gate through the front door through the house out the window to the sea, where bare glass gives out onto the waves of the Pacific, smashing to shore. Well-protected, in other words, but somehow exposed.

When I called Walter Shorenstein's office, in the Bank of America building, his assistant Tess Martin said she would pass along my request for an interview. "He makes all his own appointments," she told me.

The next day, she called back. "He said he will not be giving out interviews anymore," she said.

"Period?" I said.
"Period," she said.
"Why is that?" I said.

"I don't ask for explanations," she said. "I just pass along what he tells me to."

His son, Douglas, and his daughter, Carole, don't return our phone calls. His friends and business colleagues, for the most part, decline comment, as well, or talk only in the most general and generous terms. There are things that people will say about Walter Shorenstein: that he's very smart. That he is secure, ego-wise. That he drives his own car. That he's been seen about town in a sporty Mercedes. That he has a sense of humor that could remind you of Mel Brooks. That he isn't always honey and cream. One of his employees does confide that in almost four decades, he hasn't stayed home for two weeks in a row. That he possesses drive, that he strives, and if he sees you on the street, he'll stop to talk. That if you didn't already know that he had $300 million to call his own, you probably wouldn't guess it just by looking at him.

Oh, and that the Nancy Novack lawsuit was very surprising.
From 1981 to 1991, Nancy Novack was Walter Shorenstein's executive assistant. In 1992, she filed suit against the Shorenstein Company, charging the organization as a whole and Walter Shorenstein individually with, among other things, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. Eventually, Novack and Shorenstein settled the case out of court with the stipualtion that there will be penalities involved if Novack or her attorneys talk about it, even if all they talk about is nor bein gable to talk about it. These penalties seem to be taken quite seriously by the former plaintiff and her lawyers; they're altogether mum. Novack's psychiatrist, Felix Polk, also slammed the door on an interview request, leaving this voice-mail message: "We talked earlier about your request for me to comment on Nancy Novack's suit against Shorenstein. She would like me not to do that and I also am reluctant to do that so let's not do that." It was Bob Lieber, Shorenstein's attorney in the case, in fact, who openly mentioned the penalties: "If you have gotten talk from Nancy Novack about this, if we found out that such talk tok place,: he said instantaneously as I introduced myself, then Walter Shorenstein would be entitled to invoke the fines.

But although no one is talking, and most of the record is sealed, the 700-odd pages of the Novack v. Shorenstein court filed shed some light on Novack's allegations.

Nancy Novack claims in a deposition and documents on file at the San Francisco Superior Court that while she was employed at the Shorenstein Company, she received money from Walter Shorenstein for her son'e college education and to help her son recover from a violent sexual assault.

In total, the amount of money paid was $12,000, she said: $5,000 for her son's education, $7,000 for the aftermath of the assault.

Nancy Novack was deposed for seven days by Bob Lieber. Novack's attorney at the deposition was Barbara Lawless. Walter Shorenstein was not deposed, and there is no public account of his version of events, except press reports at the time, containing his denials. According to available deposition transcripts, this is what Novack says happened:

Attorney Lieber: Did you have any other dialogue with Mr. Shorenstein on these occasions about the loan, about other matters in association with the loan?

Novack: He would come back and he would hand me the check and I would say "thank you." And then he would say, "you don't show very much appreciation. I expect more appreciation than that."

Attorney Lieber: Yes? Then what did you do?
Novack: And what did I do? I said, "thank you very much," and I tried to leave the room and. This would set up a predictable sequence of evetns of him trying to grab me and fondle me.

Attorney Lieber: How would he try to grab you?
Novack: We would probably both be standing. I mean, the scenario is the same each time. We would both be standing. He would take his glasses off, put them down on the desk. He would hand me the check. I would say, "thank you very much. Steve and I appreciate this. I understand how this is set up." And I would start to leave the room and he would say, "you're not showing very much appreciation for what I'm doing. Come here. Can't you come here and show me some appreciation?

About The Author

Ellen McGarrahan

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