By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Operating on Skid Row for more than 90 years, Midnight Mission is located in a sparkling, modern complex on Sixth and San Pedro streets. It offers, among many other services, overnight housing, job training, free meals and medical care. With Luster acting as his scout into the world of homeless-service operators, Sterling was approaching the right people by contacting the Mission.
“They asked if we would consider a partnership and what kind of services were needed [on Skid Row],” Orlando Ward, director of public affairs for Midnight Mission, recalled recently to the L.A. Weekly.
In early 2006, Ward set up meetings between Sterling and Larry Adamson, president of Midnight Mission. According to Ward, who was present at some of them, Sterling was “fairly active in trying to learn what was needed down here.”
Sterling and Adamson met at Midnight Mission and in front of a property the billionaire was thinking of buying — a big, hulking import-export warehouse at 600 Wall Street, only a block away from Midnight Mission. Sterling seemed to be showing off, inviting Adamson and Ward to several “dinner meetings” at Spago in Beverly Hills, with celebrity friends in tow. For two homeless experts more accustomed to grabbing lunch meetings at a fast-food joint on gritty Skid Row, it was a courtship with fascinating possibilities.
“I won’t name names,” says Ward of the Spago meetings, “but you would immediately recognize them as soon as you saw them.”
Sterling also talked with Adamson before Clippers games at Staples Center.
“[Sterling] was very animated, enthusiastic, and an easy person to talk to,” says Ward. “He was a very gracious host.”
But then the Clippers played their first NBA playoff game in nearly 10 years on April 22, 2006. Fans were giddy, the Clippers won the home opener, and Donald Sterling suddenly put talks about helping the homeless on hold for a month, Ward says. Even so, about the same time, Sterling placed in the Times the first in a long lineup of advertisements touting the “proposed” Donald T. Sterling Homeless Center. The ads were a new twist on longtime ads that sometimes promoted Sterling’s rental properties and sometimes his law firm. A business associate who often visited Sterling in his penthouse office in Beverly Hills in the 1990s says Sterling actually cuts and pastes many of the flamboyantly unattractive ads himself, with scissors, tape and marker. He has spent hours getting just the right look, sometimes elongating the images of buildings to look more Sterling-worthy. For years, Sterling paid half the going rate for space in the Times, according to the associate.
Nowadays, the ads are such a quirky eyesore in Los Angeles that there is a Web site devoted to slamming them. “Like a lot of people,” says Marc Grobman, a Santa Monica–based graphic designer, “I’ve been plagued by these ads. Plagued and appalled.” Grobman’s one-man organization is called the Donald T. Sterling Graphic Design Foundation, a cheeky play on Sterling’s charitable foundation. On his Web site, www.quixo.com, Grobman asks people to sign a petition begging Sterling to seek professional graphics help. Says Grobman, “Every once in a while, I wonder if I’ll get a knock on the door, telling me to stop it.”
Back at the Midnight Mission, Adamson and his staff weren’t entirely pleased with what they saw in Sterling’s homeless-center ads. “It gave the impression we had a deal,” says spokesman Ward, “and we were taken aback. We had nothing in writing, and we don’t do business that way.”
That impression spread because talks between Midnight Mission and Sterling were hardly a secret. Homeless operators and politicos knew the two sides were discussing something, and now it appeared an agreement was in the making.
Ward says that after the first advertisement was published, the billionaire told Midnight Mission president Larry Adamson that the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive officer of Union Rescue Mission, another major, longtime homeless-services center on Skid Row, had contacted Sterling — and wanted to talk about a deal. Union Rescue Mission is just a block away from Midnight Mission, and the administrators of the two facilities know each other well, sometimes acting as rivals, sometimes as allies. Adamson called Bales to verify that he was talking with Sterling — but the reverend said Sterling’s story simply wasn’t true.
“Larry [Adamson] was kind of surprised,” Bales says today, because up to then, “he thought he was the only one talking with Donald Sterling.” Bales assured him, “We never talked [with Sterling]. And we still haven’t talked with him.”
Once the Clippers lost in the second round of playoffs to the Phoenix Suns on May 22, talks between Midnight Mission and Sterling resumed, but, according to Orlando Ward, the two sides “were never talking nickels and dimes or logistics.”