My father Dave was 21 years old, and my mother Eileen was 20 years old. They were the generation of wild children raised in Los Angeles in the 1970s from the Valley. Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. As high-school sweethearts, they married in Las Vegas on April 1st, because they thought it was funny to marry on April Fool’s Day. But not everything was funny, my dad was a young alcoholic who’d recently lost his older sister in a tragic accident at Lake Havasu. And my mom was a 5’2″ speed addict that always loved confrontation. My brother, Miles, was born two-and-a-half years after me. Soon after, it was just me, my mom and my brother living in Van Nuys and then North Hollywood. My parents were explosive in the same room, crashing furniture, screaming, and wielding guns and knives.
After my parents divorced, we saw my dad a few days each year, in either Apple Valley or Victorville with my grandmother Margie and grandfather Ron. My dad Dave was a strong, good looking, blonde, blue-eyed guy who grew up with celebrity kids in the ‘70s in Sherman Oaks. He had a big heart and a short fuse, and unfortunately the Valley and circumstance set him on a bad path. I have always loved my dad, but we never connected. I have strived to provide a better life for my children, and most of all, to connect with them. Growing up with a single mother meant I watched her become hardened by life. She relied on food stamps and often sent my brother and I to stay with grandparents, in Brentwood or Sherman Oaks for years at a time.
As a poor, white kid growing up in a very poor latino neighborhood in North Hollywood, and as the smallest kid in the classroom, with curly, blond hair and thrift-store clothes, I felt like an outsider and that I had to be tough, tough like Karate Kid. Miles and I regularly fought the kids who tried to take what little we had: G.I. Joes and He-Man toys. We always lived in apartments, never a home or a condo, but we spent the hot summers and created our best childhood memories in the apartment pools. We also played baseball at the nearby park, snuck into the library across the street, and best of all… we took Hawaiian Kenpo Karate from Sensei Cecil Peoples, and his adopted son Sensei Emmanuel “Ske-Wee” Jefferson.
For many years, Sensei was like a father to me. He was a charming, strong black man who had learned kickboxing and Kenpo at the dawn of Karate in the United States. He taught Miles and I to fight, be strong, and to love the music of James Brown. We listened to the King of Soul while jump roping non-stop at his studio (now I study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Jean Jacques Machado’s studio in Woodland Hills).
I first realized we were poor one day at Hughes Market when my mom pulled out food stamps. They looked like weird monopoly money. I was embarrassed to know we got handouts, and I felt the cashier and everyone in line behind us staring. My mom smiled.
For school, I attended Serrania Elementary in Woodland Hills, and then Sherman Oaks Elementary and SOCES (Sherman Oaks Center of Enriched Studies) in Reseda. Most of the kids we went to school with were Jewish and lived within walking distance of the schools. My brother and I had to take a bus and we were always tired before and after school because of the rides. And we were always treated as poor outsiders in JC Penny stiff jeans and thrift store shirts and jackets.
My love of art began early when my grandmother, Sharon, a court reporter for the Van Nuys Courthouse, paid for art classes. I studied oil painting every Saturday for many years. My mom even signed me up for nude drawing classes with adults, but I would not let any of my kids do that today. Later, I began studying fine art at Otis College in Los Angeles, but I left after the first year to pursue real estate investing. Art is why I got into real estate because I realized I could take an ugly home or apartment building, re-envision and remodel it, and re-rent it and/or sell it for so much more. I enjoy design and architecture now.
By the mid-1990s, we were out of baseball and out of Karate, and we were living on the border of Los Feliz and Hollywood, on Kingsley Drive. My mom was the property manager, and we took the bus early in the morning to Pacific Palisades Charter High School, about an hour and a half there in the morning, and sometimes two hours back.
Living on Kingsley, which was primarily aspiring actors from all over the country, drug dealers, hookers, and a huge Armenian family community, again caused us to feel like outsiders, especially since we were living on the Eastside and going to school and making friends on the Westside. Many days, I would skip my honors and AP classes, and just go surfing by myself at Malibu Surfrider. It’s as crowded as ever, but I still love mornings at Malibu Surfrider Beach.
My mom bravely chose to go back to school and attended Santa Monica College, graduated from UCLA, and then studied for the State BAR after having barely stayed in Southwestern. I am so proud of my mom for raising us alone, finishing school in her 30s, and becoming a lawyer. By the late ’90s, my mom chose not to practice as an attorney, and instead got into computers. We were late to computers and never experienced AOL like my friends, but we were early to eBay, computer games, and programming. We went to Society of Saint Vincent de Paul’s thrift store in Downtown LA or other thrift stores in the Valley, and found collectibles to sell. We were professional thrifters before it was cool, and everyone knew us at the stores.
We did this sometimes daily, sometimes missing school. I then started doing graphic design, because Pali High had a very early programming, film editing and graphic design program. I used Flash and Dreamweaver to make websites, long before Adobe acquired them. I started making $20 an hour doing graphic design, and one of my regular clients was Bel-Air Camera in Westwood Village. It was my first time tasting money.
In 2000, my brother Miles and I represented the United States in the first “electronic olympics” in Seoul, South Korea. One day as we were driving to school and listening to KROQ, the announcer said there was a gaming competition at Universal Studios. My mom asked if we wanted to play “hooky” and go. My brother won 1st place and $6,000, and I won 2nd place and $3,000, plus we got to leave the country for a few weeks.
Everything then suddenly changed. On one of our extra long bus rides on the MTA back to Los Feliz from the Palisades, I could see my mom waiting in my grandfather’s Cougar Mercury, with stuff packed in the back and our Chow-Chow panting in the back seat. She was sitting in the car, on Hollywood Blvd. She looked sad but had a smile. She was embarrassed and heartbroken, and was trying to hide it. We had been evicted.
I was going to school at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester, CA. I lived at the school, on the beach, and in my grandfather’s Cougar. I became estranged from my mom, disconnected from my brother, and jumped into the art world for one solid year, starving, studying art on scholarship, and arguing with my instructors about the meaning of art. I became burned out and disillusioned.
Somehow I stumbled into journalism. Here I met one of my best and oldest friends Oliver. I was doing political cartoons, and he had the lofty title of News Editor of the Santa Monica Corsair. We immediately clicked and pursued journalism seriously, along with drinking and racing cars at night. When the excitement cooled down, we hung out listening to either the Pharcyde and/or Thelonious Monk and discussing politics. His father is a Jewish-Hungarian rocket scientist who escaped from communism and set-up shop in LA.
While at Santa Monica college, I changed my course of study from art to politics and writing. Eventually, I became the News Editor, just like Oliver, and then the Editor-in-Chief under the guidance of Ms. B (Barbara Baird from the LA Times). Because of her, I received a full scholarship for a summer program in Norway for journalism.
By 2001, I was purchasing real estate–small multi-family properties in Echo Park, Los Angeles, starting with a four-unit located at 1157 Bellevue Avenue. This was the beginning of my 20-year personal and professional run in real estate, personally investing in apartments as a multi-family developer and selling real estate as a Realtor for many residential and commercial clients.
I now live in sunny Calabasas, California. I have a phenomenal partner named Kayla, an awesome ex-wife named Amanda, three incredible children, (one daughter and two sons), and I plan on having more children. I already have a fourth on the way!
I raise my children with both Jewish practices and Christian values. I’m a member of Or Ami in Calabasas and Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks.
I still enjoy surfing at Malibu Surfrider Beach, studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Jean-Jacques Machado‘s studio, and reading about consciousness and artificial intelligence for my small podcast show called, simply, The David Bramante Show. I love both real estate and technology, and I’ve run businesses in both.