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Founder of Century City CPA Firm Dies at 91

Kenneth Leventhal, the founder of Kenneth Leventhal & Co. that merged with Ernst & Young, died Tuesday.

Funeral services were pending today for Kenneth Leventhal, a certified public accountant who built the largest CPA firm in the United States specializing in real estate, located in Century City since 1965.

Leventhal died Tuesday in a Los Angeles-area hospice facility of natural causes. He was 91.

He and his wife, Elaine Otter, started Kenneth Leventhal & Co. in the second bedroom of their apartment in 1949. As it expanded, the business moved to various locations in West Los Angeles and, in 1965, relocated to Century City. Leventhal was a major financial supporter of the University of Southern California, whose accounting school bears his name.

The firm's early clients included Ray Watt and other real estate giants such as Trammell Crow, William Lyon and Montgomery Ross Fisher. When some of its clients ran into financial difficulties during cyclical downturns in the economy and property markets, the firm began advising the companies in complex reorganizations. Leventhal assisted some of the biggest names in U.S. real estate, among them Donald Trump, hotel developer John Portman and mall developer Edward DeBartolo.

It also advised the U.S. Resolution Trust Corporation in selling billions of dollars of assets of failed thrift institutions. As its reputation grew, the firm took on global assignments, advising international clients in restructuring and selling portfolios of distressed real estate and other assets.

In 1990, Leventhal was succeeded as managing partner of the firm by Stan Ross, who had joined the firm in 1961. In 1995, the Leventhal firm merged with Ernst & Young, one of the world's largest public accounting firms. At the time of the merger, the company Leventhal built was recognized as the leading CPA firm in real estate, with nearly $200 million in revenues. It ranked ninth in size among U.S. CPA firms and had offices in 13 U.S. cities and an international affiliation in many countries.

In 1999, 50 years after he founded his firm, Leventhal retired as an Ernst & Young partner. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Leventhal moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of 8 and attended local schools, including Hollywood High School. After a hitch in the U.S. Army during World War II, the Airborne infantryman attended UCLA on the G.I. Bill, where he met his future wife.

A strong believer in the importance of education, Leventhal was a leading benefactor of USC, which presented him with an honorary doctorate degree in 2000. In 1996, the university renamed its School of Accounting as the Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal School of Accounting in recognition of their $25 million gift.

A USC trustee, he chaired the school's Building On Excellence fund-raising campaign, which began in 1993 with an initial goal of raising $1 billion. When it concluded in 2003, it had raised $2.85 billion, the most successful fund-raising effort in higher education.

"Here at USC, I can work to improve society as a whole by helping an effective school to become even more effective,'' Leventhal said in his profile on the USC website. "I can help accounting students receive an education that develops the skills and knowledge and vision they need to become accounting professionals of tomorrow.''

Leventhal's survivors include his wife of 63 years, sons Robert and Ross, granddaughter Emma and brother Henley.

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