Fred Sands and Daniel Thompson: Boyle Heights Figures Who Made History

This week the Los Angeles Times included an obituary of Fred C. Sands, who was one of the most successful real estate tycoons in Los Angeles (another more colorful figure in that word also from Boyle Heights is Donald Sterling.)  Sands, who was born in New York, moved to Boyle Heights at age 7 in 1945 and was a graduate of Roosevelt High and U.C.L.A.

According to the obit, Sands started in real estate by flipping houses before becoming a realtor with industry giant Coldwell Banker in the 1960s.  After a few years there, he branched out on his own, forming his business in 1969.

In time, Sands presided over one of the largest independent residential brokerages in the nation, having 65 offices (some franchised) and 4,000 employees with volume of over $9 billion a year.  In addition to real estate, he was involved in turning around distressed businesses, including radio stations and title insurance firms.  At the end of 2000, weary of the amount of work it took to oversee an empire, Sands sold out to his former employer, Coldwell Banker.

He then formed the private equity firm, Vintage Capital Group, LLC and turned his attention to regional malls and shopping centers that needed upgrades and improvements.  While his profile was decidedly more low-key, which is, apparently, how we liked it, Sands was very successful in that endeavor, as well.

Sands endowed a real estate institute in his name at Pepperdine University, was an avid art collector and a big supporter of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and had involvement with the United Way, Los Angeles Police Foundation, and Los Angeles Opera, among others.  He died in Boston of a stroke and was 77 years old.

A little over a month ago, a lesser-known figure with a Boyle Heights connection passed away.  Daniel Thompson was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1921, but his family relocated to Boyle Heights shortly afterward, where Thompson’s father, Meyer (Mickey), born of Russian Jewish parents, operated a bakery, where bagels were made the traditional way by hand.  The family resided in the northwest corner of the community near St. Louis Street, near where Interstates 5 and 10 meet.

The listing from the 1930 census for the Meyer Thompson family in Boyle Heights.  Daniel, who invented the mass-producing bagel machine that the Lender’s Bagels company popularized was a boy, but only a couple of years from starting to work his father on the early prototypes for the invention. 

During the Great Depression years, the Thompsons migrated to the Fairfax district and Daniel, a graduate of Fairfax High and U.C.L.A. (and a veteran of the Second World War), was a junior high and high school teacher.  He later moved to Cheviot Hills, which is where he began to experience success as an inventory.  One of his first projects was developing a folding ping-pong table, having been frustrated at the time needed to set up existing tables.  The money he realized from selling the rights to a prominent maker of tables allowed him to move on to his next project.

Bagels were usually made with four-man teams, involving much labor and expense.  Meyer Thompson tried for years in his garage to develop a practical machine to make bagels and Daniel began at age 11 to assist him.

After decades, in the late 1950s, after much tinkering in his own garage, Thompson came up with a viable bagel-making machine that double and then tripled the output compared to traditional hand-made products.  A few years later, he leased one to Murray Lender and other companies jumped on board the concept, taking the bagel from a limited market among Jews to mainstream mass popularity.  Later iterations of the machine churned out 5,000 bagels an hour, an amazing change from the 120 an hour achieved by the fastest of those using the hand-made method.  The Thompson family business is now run by son Stephen.

Boyle Heights is a place that has been the home of a number of prominent figures in all walks of life, like most communities.  The recent passings of Fred Sands and Daniel Thompson are just two examples of how this vibrant neighborhood has helped shape our region and times.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry and Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board Member.