You can tell a lot about a place by knowing a little about the people who started the best-known businesses there. The knowledge tells you, for instance, what it has taken to succeed and survive in the local economy.
Although Southern California is sometimes accused of having a short memory about its past, not all its businesses have been flashes in the pan. In fact, it has no shortage of long-established, successful companies.
So, examine a measure of local immortality--people whose names are still attached to the companies that they founded here and whose corporate legacies include widespread name recognition.
Who were they? Not unlike many of today's Southland entrepreneurs, they were often immigrants who came here flat broke. Most commonly, they were fortune seekers, dreamers and unorthodox risk takers. And, also not unlike today, they sought some imaginative way to tap this rich market.
Here is a little background on some of the region's most venerable names in business. The ground rules for inclusion were that the companies must be Southern California-based, that they were founded here, still carry their founders' names and have been around for a long time.
This list is not exhaustive. It also leaves out local companies that were founded elsewhere, have moved away, were started in the recent past, dropped or never used their founders' names, do not have high name recognition or no longer exist.
There are many, many companies in those categories, but sic transit gloria.
MARK C. BLOOME CO.
Anaheim-based tire retailer, now owned by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Mark C. Bloome (1902-), after emigrating from Canada to Southern California, opened a gas station in 1924 on Slauson Avenue in Compton. Using razzle-dazzle promotions--among them glassware giveaways and woman attendants on roller skates--he built his business into a chain of service stations across Los Angeles.
In the 1950s, under the guidance of his son-in-law Jerry Fields, Bloome's stations gradually began to specialize in selling tires. The chain pioneered the concept of the large, clean tire store selling all major brands, with service bays facing the street and air-conditioned waiting rooms. The family sold the business to Petrolane Inc. in 1972; Goodyear purchased it in 1986. It currently operates 45 stores in Southern California.
Los Angeles-based department store chain, now a unit of R. H. Macy Co.
John G. Bullock (1871-1933), born in Canada, founded his Los Angeles department store in 1907 at Seventh and Broadway, with financial backing of his former boss Arthur Letts, owner of the Broadway Department Store down the street. Later, he bought out Letts' interest and expanded his chain to several stores, each operated independently. In 1970, after their purchase by Federated Department Stores, the Bullock's and Bullocks Wilshire chains were made into separate entities. (Bullocks Wilshire dropped the apostrophe in its name as part of its effort to establish its own identity.) Both chains were purchased by Macy in 1988.
MARIE CALLENDER PIE SHOPS INC.
Orange-based chain of coffee shops, now owned by Wilshire Restaurant Group.
Marie Callender (1907-), with husband Cal and son Don, began making pies in a rented Quonset hut in Long Beach in 1948, then selling them wholesale to coffee shops and restaurants.
A decade later, the Callenders began opening their own restaurants, specializing in such basic fare as soup, chili, sandwiches, pie and coffee. The family sold the business, which has grown to 153 restaurants in 16 states, to Ramada Inns in 1986, which sold it in May of this year to Wilshire Restaurant Group.
WALT DISNEY CO.
Burbank-based entertainment and theme park company.
Walter Elias Disney (1901-1966), a one-time Missouri farm boy with a talent for drawing, moved to Southern California in the 1920s and began making animated cartoons in a Hollywood garage. Despite early setbacks, he hit it big with Mickey Mouse and built a billion-dollar entertainment empire.
After his death, the company stagnated and was almost taken over by a corporate raider. But, under new management, it has become a hugely profitable entertainment conglomerate in the 1980s.
Long Beach-based aircraft builder, now part of McDonnell Douglas Corp.
Donald Wills Douglas (1892-1981), a pioneer aircraft engineer, moved to Los Angeles and founded his own airplane company in 1920 in a back room behind a Santa Monica barbershop. A decade later, Douglas developed the DC (for Douglas Commercial) series of aircraft, which accounted for more than half of the world's airline seats until the end of the 1950s, by which time Boeing's wildly successful 707 had ushered in the jet age and taken away Douglas's lead in commercial airplanes.
The company's delay in entering the jetliner market hastened its merger with McDonnell in 1967. Douglas stepped down as chief executive that year at age 75.
Los Angeles-based aerospace manufacturer.