Mahlon E. Arnett, a retired department store executive and founding president of the Music Center Lease Corp., the volunteer organization charged with constructing and leasing the Music Center in 1961, died Monday at a rest home in Alhambra.
The one-time chief of finance and director of Bullock's-Magnin Co., who helped supervise the spread of department stores into suburban areas of Los Angeles, was 86.
Born in Oklahoma when it was still an Indian territory, Arnett moved west as a child and attended USC but left in 1924 because of uncertain economic times, earning his degree 18 years later.
He went to work for Bullock's shortly before Bullock's and the Broadway went under separate ownership. (Arthur Letts, founder of the original Broadway Department Store, had started a separate downtown store using the name of his friend John G. Bullock.)
In 1944, Arnett was involved in the merger of Bullock's and I. Magnin, under which the stores continued to operate as separate entities. Twenty years later he became president of the western division of Federated Department Stores Inc. when that Cincinnati-based organization took over Bullock's-Magnin.
He also was president of Bullock's Realty Corp. and supervised the site selection and construction in 1947 of Bullock's in Pasadena, the first of the expanding Bullock's chain to be modeled after the downtown store. He performed that task for many of the other Bullock's expansion stores.
He became the leader of a group of 15 businessmen entrusted in 1961 with constructing and leasing the Music Center structures to the county, which in turn leased them back to the Music Center Operating Co., a nonprofit corporation.
Arnett, who is survived by his wife, Martha, two sons, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, retired in 1969. Memorial arrangements are pending.