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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

Cusumano Family Leaves Legacy in Downtown Burbank

It is not an overstatement to say that the Cusumano family has left its imprint on Burbank. The real estate investment firm started by Chuck Cusumano and his brother Roger has built commercial and office buildings throughout the city along with hundreds of units of senior housing. It is downtown Burbank, however, where the Cusumanos made their most lasting impact. Their projects transformed what had been an under-utilized area lacking in social appeal into one that is now thriving with daytime and nighttime activity. Without the Cusumano family and a few other developers taking that initial risk, the revitalization of downtown Burbank faced a serious setback. “We have a certain amount of pride we take in participating in the emergence of Burbank over the past 20 years,” said Michael Cusumano, the eldest son of Chuck who along with his brother Charlie oversees the day-to-day operations of the Cusumano Real Estate Group. Along with handling new development and financing, Michael is charged with being the public face of the firm. This role grows out of his appearances at public hearings on certain projects and otherwise representing the company in public. It is a role that the UCLA-educated Michael has grown into. Those who know Michael describe him as a combination of his father and uncle who carved his own path and maintains the integrity of the family company. “(Chuck and Roger) know how to pass the torch,” said Marsha Ramos, a former Burbank city official. “They have the ability to see what the next generation can bring in strengths and talents.” Chuck Cusumano worked as a meter reader when he entered into real estate part-time. On the rounds he made for the gas company he knew where available property was and where new construction was taking place. The investment company bearing his name has its roots in his and Roger’s purchasing small apartment buildings, making renovations at night, and then managing them. Through the years the brothers built up a property portfolio throughout Southern California but never strayed far from Burbank. Michael and younger brother Charlie got involved at a young age, swinging hammers and digging ditches during the period when the company constructed its own buildings. While still at UCLA earning a degree in economics, Michael got his real estate license and began selling property on the side. Charlie joined him at the family firm after graduating from USC. (The rivalry between the schools flares up during football season.) It was also at this time that downtown Burbank was a much different place; the dull inspiration for the mocking “beautiful downtown Burbank” of first “Laugh In” and then Johnny Carson. These were the days when San Fernando Boulevard was closed to traffic of industrial uses and car dealers and some remnants of the aerospace industry. At the southeast corner of First Street and Olive Avenue, the Cusumanos built a four-story office building and an adjacent restaurant. Across the street was built Cusumano Plaza done in conjunction with the city’s redevelopment agency that had one of the first examples of shared parking for the office building during the day and for the public on evenings and weekends. “They were certainly one of the developers that helped turn downtown around,” said Jack Lynch, a deputy housing and redevelopment manager for Burbank. Former City Council member Michael Hastings credits the Cusumanos, along with the Mersola family, and developers Tim Behunin and Tom Tunnicliffe with the reinvention of Burbank. Roger and Chuck, Hastings said, had a keen sense of location and strategic timing and were shrewd in their ability to get financing. “The beneficiaries were not just themselves,” Hastings said. “The beneficiaries were the neighboring property owners; the beneficiaries were the community as a whole.” A later project involved the former police station on Olive Avenue, across from City Hall. Burbank Civic Plaza has retail space on the ground floor with office space above. The project became a lightning rod of sorts for vocal City Hall critics who cried foul over how the Cusumanos obtained the land. Those objections, however, only started after his company took possession, Michael Cusumano said. Ramos has watched as the company has grown. Her father did work for Chuck and Roger through his geotechnical and environmental consultant firm. The father and uncle, and now the sons understand about maintaining good property values and striking a balance in the areas of the city they build in. “It is to their benefit that the overall quality of Burbank be preserved,” Ramos said. Preserving that quality of life goes beyond managing its properties. The Cusumano Real Estate Group recently started a foundation to better focus its existing charitable activities to causes and endeavors the family supports. The Cusumanos have donated to the Providence St. Joseph Foundation, the Family Service Agency of Burbank, the Burbank Boys and Girls Club and to reconstruct the athletic fields at Burbank and John Burroughs high school.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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