Last week was the week that was for Frank Rice. After almost 43 years with Bullock's, the vice president for public affairs left the store. And headed straight for Skid Row.
Those who know him, judging from the way they were talking at the farewells in his honor last week, could see it coming--one of those things that was bound to happen.
Rice has been headed for Skid Row for quite some time, ever since the days that preceded the founding of the Skid Row Development Corp. in 1978. Then he was simply serving on a task force. Today, he is not only completing a three-year term as president of that corporation and serving on the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency's new SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Housing Corp., he is about to become a provider of services on the Row himself.
He is getting ready to open the doors of the Los Angeles Men's Place. He has formed a nonprofit corporation, raised start-up money, hired a director, Mollie Lowery, and, as of the beginning of this week, closed escrow and taken possession of 627 San Julian St., a cheerful-looking, two-story structure that until recently was a health clinic.
"Mollie tells me we'll open in May" after some renovations are done, Rice said last week in his by-then semi-stripped office at Bullock's. The facility will be open as a daytime center for men of Skid Row who are mentally ill, some of them de-institutionalized, some developmentally disabled. (A similar facility in the area, the Downtown Women's Center, has been serving women for the past seven years.)
Rice will not be living on Skid Row or even working there full time in his retirement. He will continue to live in San Marino, as he has for the past 30 years with his wife, Dorothy. And from San Marino he will pursue what was to have been his complete retirement program--he will serve along with Dorothy as co-publisher of the weekly San Marino Tribune, thus fulfilling what he said was a high-school ambition.
He and Dorothy bought the paper seven years ago with an eye toward "something for Frank to do when he retired," Dorothy said recently. She agreed to run it until his retirement (which they thought would happen three years ago, but Bullock's asked him to stay on). The kind of publisher who knows her way around "the back shop," Dorothy learned about newspapers from the top down, she said recently, and got caught up in it. Her husband "moonlighted" for her, writing editorials and covering the school board. She has no objections to letting him now assume the leadership, she said, but she wants to remain involved. Practically speaking, with his interest in the Men's Place, she knows her days as publisher will not be over.
"It's not a hobby with her," Rice said. "I'll be co-publisher with her. We'll divide up the duties somehow."
As far as the Men's Place is concerned, Rice said that before he left Bullock's he obtained a pledge of $20,000 a year for five years from the firm, and committed himself to at least five years of service at the Men's Place. (Funds to buy the building, for $207,500, came from Atlantic Richfield and the Community Redevelopment Agency, he said.)
However, he said, since Lowery is "a very professional director" (who formerly directed the Ocean Park Community Center in Santa Monica), he will not need to get involved in the daily operation.
"But certainly I'll be spending time helping get things going," he said. He will continue to raise funds, and he, with Lowery and Jill Halverson, director of the Downtown Women's Center, who served as Rice's co-founder, will be putting together a board of directors. ("So far Jill and I are 'it,' with an advisory committee.")
In spite of his calm, considerate, unhurried manner, he is, apparently, a man who is used to being busy and has arrived at a young 67 that way, seemingly unaware of any alternative.
He could, of course, keep busy on a golf course, or puttering and cluttering in the yard and empty spaces of his home, even building a golden pond to fish in. Stereotypes being what they are, retired corporate executives who live in San Marino tend to bring such images to mind. Stereotypes aside, their numbers are not legion among providers of services to the down and out.
So why Frank Rice? Lots of people get asked by their companies to sit on civic committees.
The world lost a great poker player when Rice went into merchandising. He can go for long stretches without cracking a smile--at least when the subject under discussion is Frank Rice, past and future. He is polite, tries to be cooperative, but is not given to public soul-searching.
He is more relaxed going over the chronology of his career or telling what he has learned about needs and services over the years and those whom he admires for dealing well with such matters. The most enthusiasm he displays is for practical steps that can be taken to improve things.