The first property that Albinas “Mark” Markevicius bought in Santa Monica was an old house in the 1200 block of 17th Street with a couple additional units in the back. The year was 1958. He spent $26,500.
“One of the brokers said I way overpaid,” he said. “But I felt there was a future. I was looking long-term.”
Markevicius couldn’t help but chuckle this month as he recalled his decision to sell the property for $39,000 a few years later. The space now features four luxury townhomes worth more than $1 million each.
It’s one of numerous stories that came to his mind as Markevicius reflected on five decades of business with his locally based real estate company, Roque & Mark. The firm hosted about 200 people at its 50th anniversary celebration at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club this month.
“We’ve tried to serve the community as diligently as we could, and it grew slowly as the years went by,” Markevicius, 85, said of his company’s Santa Monica origins. “It was and still is a wonderful city.”
Santa Monica was only a figment of Markevicius’ imagination when he left Lithuania as a child, spending his teen years as a refugee in Germany before landing a contract job in a Canadian gold mine. But after visiting his sister in the beachside city in 1956, he decided to move here as well. He got his visa a year later.
Markevicius first entered the real estate industry by going door to door and launched his firm in 1965 with business partner Roque Rodriguez, who died of a sudden heart attack three years later.
Markevicius stayed the course, building the business into what it is today: an agency with a portfolio of 1,600-plus units at roughly 200 properties. Roque & Mark’s operation now includes rentals, real estate sales and investment opportunities as well as property management services.
“Mark has watched Santa Monica change from a quiet town to a busy hot spot,” said his daughter, Zina Markevicius, who does marketing for the company. “He can drive by most properties here and tell you when the building was built and by whom over the decades. He’s seen it all.”
Markevicius said there were periods during the 1960s and 1970s when supply outpaced demand, recalling a time when more than half of his 30 total units at three 7th Street buildings were empty. He said a decline in the aerospace industry following the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969 led to noticeable increases in unemployment and vacancy rates.
The business has been forced to adapt to dramatic changes in Santa Monica, including rent control policies, population surges and other development.
He said the same federal, state and local governments responsible for implementing housing regulations over the years should be tasked with finding solutions to Santa Monica’s current problems.
“The demand is so huge,” he said. “There must be a multifaceted approach to take care of housing. Production is lagging behind. A lot of the properties are old. And the demand is not decreasing. It’s actually increasing. There’s been an explosion in population, and Santa Monica and the Westside are very desirable. That puts additional pressure. The rents have skyrocketed all over, and that’s not a good sign. It’s not good for communities and residents.”
But regardless of how the housing market is doing, Markevicius strives to be active in the community. He’s president of the Santa Monica-based California Lithuanian Credit Union, a board member of the Santa Monica Sister City Foundation and a longtime Elks member. The Santa Monica College graduate also serves on the school’s advisory board.
Peeking into the future of his business, Markevicius said he’s grateful to have a dedicated staff of more than a dozen employees. His team includes his son, vice president Marius Markevicius, who has closed more than $100 million in transactions as a Roque & Mark broker.
“I was born on a farm, so I want to hang onto the land,” he said. “We try to pass it on to the next generation.”