Ramin Pourteymour remembers everything about that April night of 1985 when, at 15 years old, he stared up at the La Jolla sky and made a wish.
It was at the birthday party of Eva Cerciello. She was a popular student at La Jolla High, he was not. At the time, Ramin was a recent Persian immigrant pumping gas and scrubbing toilets at the 76 station at 801 Pearl St. to help keep his family afloat. Eva’s driveway was lined with luxury cars and her house seemed to go on for miles.
“There was a full moon shining bright above the house,” says Ramin, who speaks like most poets write. “The magnificent view inspired me. I whispered to myself, ‘I hope that someday when I grow up, I will own a house like this.’ ” Ramin says he even remembers where he sat when he said this — on the pool deck, third step down.
Ramin had a taste of great riches as a young child. His grandfather, Ibrahim Khosrowshahi, was among Iran’s wealthiest people during the Shah’s reign. His father, Malek Iradj (“Malek” means “prince” in Farsi) and his mother Mina grew up in that wealth, as did Ramin. When the revolution erupted in 1979, though, the family left behind the life they knew, including their property and money, and emigrated to Germany.
At 13, Ramin’s talent for singing won him first place in a German talent-show competition. (He sang Falco’s “Der Kommissar” and Wham!’s “Young Guns.”) With his winnings and savings of about $4,000, Ramin helped his family emigrate to the United States in late 1983. All five members shared a two-bedroom apartment on La Jolla Boulevard that cost $600 a month. “I was sitting there, on the third step, saying to myself, ‘I wish my parents hadn’t lost everything,’ ” Ramin remembers. “Although it was difficult to reconcile it as a kid, I accepted it and appreciated the fact that they left everything behind to save their children. They are truly the most wonderful parents in the world.”
Three decades later, Ramin leads a tour of his own beautiful home for the Light. Built in the mid-1970s, it is called the Atoll House after the ring-shaped coral reef it resembles. The designer was organic architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, a local disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, with assistance from stained-glass and mosaic designer James Hubble. As in many Wright-inspired homes, water flows and trees grow through it, a nod to living with nature instead of in defiance of it. Ramin installed the shimmering crushed green glass on the roof, which is why he says pilots refer to it as “The Jewel House” when flying overhead. Giant Buddha statues meditate everywhere.
“I believe in hope and karma,” Ramin says. “I believe that good things will happen where darkness exists, if you have faith and believe.”
Ramin began amassing his current wealth in the airline industry. He filled out his first, ignored pilot applications while working at the 76 station. A stint selling women’s shoes at Nordstrom paid for flight school. Before he could become a pilot, he was a ramper, an aircraft cleaner, a fueler, a customer-service agent and a flight attendant. Eventually, his uncrushable spirit buoyed him into the captain’s chair. He was 21 at the time, the youngest pilot in United Airlines’ history. (Ramin’s uniform is on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum for that reason.) He’s been on a long-term leave of absence since a 2008 motorcycle accident, during which he’s been growing a real-estate business. (He and a partner buy and manage commercial and residential properties.)
Ramin’s tour of the Atoll House continues. A mantel that follows its circular curves gleams with his accomplishments, including a thank-you note from President Richard Nixon for flying him in the early ’90s, an invitation to Buckingham Palace from Prince Charles, a letter from President Barack Obama and an invitation to President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The invitation that still means the most to Ramin, however, was the one he received to Eva Cerciello’s party back in high school. “I was shocked,” Ramin says. “I couldn’t believe it. Me? She was so wealthy. I felt so grateful to her for noticing me and inviting me.”
Eva knew the secret Ramin kept from the other kids at school. Her dad’s Rolls-Royce pulled into his 76 station once. Eva watched from the back seat as Ramin cleaned her dad’s windshield, checked the tires and filled the tank. She did not act like she came from privilege, as so many of their classmates did. She liked Ramin, so he was coming to her birthday.
“Ramin was shy and maybe scared,” Eva told the Light, “but he was also intelligent, nice and said hello. Also, he was working and going to school, whereas most of my friends weren’t doing anything.” Eva, who splits her time these days between La Jolla and Rome, said La Jolla High had “different niches of people that kept separate, but that’s not who I was.”
With $20 in savings, Ramin bought a shirt from Marshall’s, got a haircut and drove to Eva’s house in his friend’s Pinto. “It felt to me like I was walking into The Great Gatsby’s mansion — the pool in the center of the house, the band playing music as kids were dancing around the pool,” Ramin says. “I was mesmerized and so nervous, not looking where I was walking, I stepped into a fountain.”
In 2007, while on a layover in Australia, Ramin was house-hunting to help a friend. He came across a listing in La Jolla Farms. There were no pictures posted, but the description of 9805 Blackgold Road sounded amazing. It had a tennis court, pool, beach access, built-in trampoline and a Jacuzzi on a little under 1.5 acres. Ramin wrote an offer for his friend. It was accepted, sight unseen. “The sellers wanted the house sold to someone who was going to take care of it instead of bulldoze it,” Ramin explains.
But the friend changed his mind. Ramin notified the listing agent, who tried to interest Ramin instead. But he wasn’t looking for a place at the time. The agent convinced Ramin to at least see it. She said she had multiple back-up offers already and it was a steal. They pulled up to the house together. As they turned into the circular driveway, Ramin freaked. It was the same driveway he had pulled up to in the Pinto when he was 15.
“It was Eva’s house,” he says. “The Atoll House was Eva’s house!”
Ramin remembers dashing inside, locating the stairs by the pool and sitting down on the third step. “I looked up at the sky and thanked God with tears in my eyes,” he says. Eva takes the story from here: “When he told me he bought it, I was like, wow,” she said. “Are you joking? Because he got (the house) when he was very, very young. He really got what he wanted, I was amazed. I was very emotional when he told me.”
Today, Ramin donates his money, his time and his dream house to charity organizations, many of which host events there. (In 2017, it was used by the Send ME Foundation, which supports orphanages; Promises2Kids, which aids foster children; and Miracle Babies, which helps parents of infants born prematurely or with other medical complications.) Ramin says he couldn’t be happier sharing his good fortune with the less fortunate “because I was one of them myself, and giving back brings me great joy.”
Whenever life starts to get him down about something, Ramin says, he looks out his own bedroom window, and the third step reminds him to keep believing.