A Passion for Community and Advocacy

As a prominent San Francisco real estate leader, champion of the arts, and philanthropist, Victor Makras is known to many in San Francisco. For more than 20 years, Makras has offered his time and voice to a significant number of associations, institutes, and commissions in and around the Bay Area, from the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS), a $32 million pension fund, to the San Francisco Police Commission, Friends of San Francisco City Planning (FOCP), the Carter Center, Books for the Barrios, and many more. What some may not be aware of is Makras’ own San Francisco story and background, which fuel his passion and motivation to support the city’s diverse communities, advocate on behalf of its youth, and make the city accessible and welcoming to all.  

As a prominent San Francisco real estate leader, champion of the arts, and philanthropist, Victor Makras is known to many in San Francisco. For more than 20 years, Makras has offered his time and voice to a significant number of associations, institutes, and commissions in and around the Bay Area, from the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS), a $32 million pension fund, to the San Francisco Police Commission, Friends of San Francisco City Planning (FOCP), the Carter Center, Books for the Barrios, and many more. What some may not be aware of is Makras’ own San Francisco story and background, which fuel his passion and motivation to support the city’s diverse communities, advocate on behalf of its youth, and make the city accessible and welcoming to all.  

Born to Greek immigrant parents in San Francisco, Makras’ first language was Greek. Having been taught that hard work and determination were the key to success, he began his real estate career at just 18 years of age. Much of his determination to help others stems from his great appreciation of and recognition for what he was able to accomplish and the opportunities afforded him as a result. With his wife Farah, he is the father of four, three sons and a daughter. The eldest has a family of his own, his two middle sons are in college, and his daughter will soon be following.  

Victor, Farah and family in Greece (Photo: courtesy of Victor Makras)

Makras shared with us his deep love and regard for San Francisco and the communities that fill this city with energy and vibrancy. We talked about the future ahead and some of his personal connections to the causes he supports and communities for which he advocates, as well as a few favorite destinations. 

HL: You are truly a San Francisco original and a firstgeneration American? Tell us a bit about your own experience in the city.  

VM: I was born to Greek parents in San Francisco. Both of my parents’ families came to San Francisco during WWII, within just a couple of years of each other, actually. My mother’s father worked with a company that sent him to the US for work and offered citizenship. Those were different times! All said, I’m not sure if that makes me first-generation San Franciscan/American or one-and-a-half or even second! We moved to Daly City when I was a child, but San Francisco was our community, where our church and so many friends were, so the city was where we spent much of our time.  

HL: You’ve been working in the city for many decades and are known and respected as a longtime leader in real estate. You have such an interesting story: tell us how you got your start.  

VM: I was inspired to start a career in real estate at the young age of 18. I worked very hard, got my real estate license, and began reaching out to people. Well, it was not easy. Not everyone felt confident putting the sale of their home in the hands of an 18-year-old! Things often went well until I set up the in-person meetings and they opened the door to a very young man. I can say that I understand age discrimination. 

I then pivoted slightly and began renting apartments at the same time to get experience and a few successes under my belt. I loved it. It was satisfying to bring people together, make those connections, and help people find a place to live. Everyone’s home is their palace. I have felt honored to help many people find their palaces. Decades later, my company manages some 3,000 apartments on behalf of owners and oversees roughly 400 buildings. I never plan to retire! I will always be interested in accomplishing more in my community and profession. 

Willie Brown, Victor Makras, Farah Makras, Mayor London Breed and Art Agnos (Photo: Arthur Kobin for Drew Altizer Photography)

HL: What are your hopes for the future of the city? What kind of San Francisco would you like to see for the next generation?  

VM: In the immediate future, given the year that we’ve had, my hope and belief is for a smart recovery, which includes people getting vaccinated and being conscious of themselves and being protective of one’s neighbor. Ultimately, I believe that we will have a full recovery: in family, work, and school. If we get that, we will have community recovery, recovery of our arts and our city back in full blossom. San Francisco is truly one of the best places the world has to offer. We have world class hospitals, universities, food, banks, arts programs and offerings, and nearby Silicon Valley.  

I would like to see the city more vibrant, business-friendly, accessible, and less regulated. Part of what makes San Francisco so beautiful (outside of the stunning natural beauty surrounding us), is that it is a city that welcomes all, creating wonderful diversity and energy. We are free-spirited here. Our neighborhoods and people flow from one neighborhood together.  

Many people come to San Francisco with big dreams. Whether they come from a positive or negative world, they come for something better and bring with them so many ideas and talent. The city benefits from that as well, because these people also bring something better. We all share in that special and dynamic DNA. 

San Francisco’s Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

HL: You have a legacy of involvement in the city as an advocate and proponent for positive change. What feels especially important now?  

VM: Part of what motivates me to get involved is that government does not always feel friendly or easy for people to navigate. I’d like to make that an easier process for fellow residents. Even at a micro-level, I’ve found great satisfaction in assisting people in obtaining information and filling out forms. I’ve marveled at how complicated that can be. A recent personal example: I just tried to renew my driver’s license online and found it impossible. I spent hours trying and just couldn’t get it done. I know that when I do—and I will—I will make sure that I assist my mother and her friends with the process. I can only imagine how our elder generation feels trying to navigate these essential things. I’m determined to help others in our community feel more comfortable.  

Also incredibly important is our youth: they are our future. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had and starting so young. I’ve worked hard, but there were paths available to me. There are organizations in our city that prioritize the education, training, and workforce integration for our youth. A wonderful example is the Booker T Washington Community Service Center. Their doors are open every single day to ensure that they are available to interact with and support the kids in the community. It used to be a gym. They now have a learning center and vocational training programs to help students and young people be better set up for success in their futures.  

Other organizations doing important work for our youth are the Mission District Campus for City College, where I’ve spent years as an advisory board member, and the Asian Neighborhood Design Center. The former helps with English language education and the latter helps teach young people to become architects, designers, and carpenters and offers apprenticeships, jobs, and union memberships. These organizations help young people get their lives together and connect with something they are happy doing.  

Victor and Farah overlooking the San Francisco Marina (Photo: Mary Jean Murphy)

HL: What are some of your favorite places in San Francisco? Where do you go for Greek food as an aficionado?  

VM: Valencia—the Valencia Corridor—is my favorite street. It encompasses nearly all of San Francisco, including some important neighborhoods of my life and that of my family. It’s incredibly walkable and moves well!  

In terms of Greek restaurants, there is no second to Kokkari. They have truly mastered the art of Greek cooking. It doesn’t matter when you go, you will still have the same food. That consistency is what home cooking is. You always go back home for your favorite meal. Kokkari is that for me. 

But above all, breaking bread with friends, exchanging ideas and life stories is everything to me, my wife, and family. I appreciate excellent food, flavors, culinary experiences, but it’s the fellowship of the experience and taking time for that which are the most important. We are fortunate for the depths of friendships here and our life in this wonderful city. Tony Bennett gave us all a beautiful song of appreciation for this incredible city, and it couldn’t be truer! 

Victor and Farah enjoying dinner at Kokkari with Sonya Molodetskaya, Willie Brown and Mayor London Breed (Photo: courtesy of Victor Makras)
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