Josef Diamond, 1907-2007: Parking magnate built business in 8 states, Canada

Josef Diamond, a Seattle attorney who helped build a lone gravel lot into a family parking business in eight U.S. states and Canada, died at his home Saturday, three days before his 100th birthday.
diamondfoto.jpgBorn March 6, 1907, in Los Angeles, Diamond was the fourth child of Jewish parents who fled Kiev, Ukraine, and the anti-Semitic rule of the Russian czar. The first in his family to attend college, he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington in 1928 and a law degree from that school in 1931.

After World War II, he and his younger brother, Leon, began running the 17 lots started by Leon and another brother, Louis, as early as the 1920s, according to a 1985 biography by Rabbi Raphael Levine.

Leon and Josef built the company into one that owns and operates more than 1,000 parking lots and other parking facilities in the West and Northwest, as well as British Columbia and Alberta, according to its Web site.

Diamond Parking also owns more than 200 commercial office buildings, residential apartment buildings, marinas, mini-storage complexes and industrial parks, said Bob Turley, the company's chief financial officer.

Ken Phillips Jr., vice president of rival U-Park System, called him "the wiser, elder statesman of the local industry. I always had the highest respect for him and his family."

Diamond's son, Joel, is now the company's chairman and chief executive, while Joel's son, Jon, is its president and chief operating officer. Josef Diamond held the title of chairman emeritus until his death and "never formally retired," Turley said.

"He was a very good mentor," said Turley, an 11-year employee. "It was always a good experience talking with him, and he always had something to add to our business, even up to very recently, when he was bedridden."

Diamond was an attorney before and during his career in parking. As a recent college grad, he worked for a month without pay to get a job at the Seattle firm of Caldwell & Lycette. While there, he represented a rejected University of Washington law school student before the U.S. Supreme Court in DeFunis v. Odegaard in 1974.

By the time he left the firm, after 53 years, he was a name partner.

After practicing law all week, he'd convene his parking-business employees in his office and "hold court," remembered Gary Beck, who worked for Diamond for 14 years.

"He had the most amazing memory and was tough as nails," Beck said.

"He would remember every word he ever spoke or wrote to anyone, and quiz them weeks or months later about whether they'd done what he told them to. He once told a guy who wanted to quit, 'You'll quit when I tell you to quit' -- and that guy kept working another 12 years."

But Diamond was also ethical and compassionate, enthusiastically complimenting workers for a good job, bailing friends out of financial straits and zealously representing clients, Beck said.

Beck left Diamond in 1986 to found Seattle's Republic Parking Northwest Inc., of which he is now president. He remembers Diamond, who by then had cut back his role, as a tough competitor nonetheless.

"He was probably one of the most powerful people in Seattle, because he had so many contacts it was hard to even get the opportunity to bid on a property."

Diamond Parking received negative publicity for hardball tactics, including chaining cars to barrels for non-payment of parking fees. But Ken Phillips Sr., also of U-Park, said he knew Josef Diamond for 50 years and he didn't deserve such bad publicity.

"Joe had all the ethics in the world as far as I'm concerned," he said. "He was a strong competitor, but he was outgoing, friendly, a good man, and he always treated us fairly."
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