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Dudley Gray, 1922 - 2007

Prominent lawyer rebuilt 1885 Iowa courthouse as Torrance office building

December 12, 2007|From a Times Staff Writer

Dudley Gray, a prominent former South Bay attorney who bought a 19th-century Iowa courthouse and resurrected it as an office building in Torrance, died Friday at a hospital in Palm Springs. He was 85.

Gray, who had survived two bouts of cancer, died of natural causes, according to his son Jeff, also an attorney.

Widely respected for his tenacity and legal knowledge, Gray practiced civil and criminal law for 58 years, waging 27 first- degree murder cases and winning acquittals in 19. His name also appears on 22 published decisions, including four that reached the California Supreme Court, Jeff Gray said Monday.

Born April 5, 1922, in South Dakota, Gray was reared in Whitten, Iowa, and moved to Southern California after serving in the Navy during World War II.

He worked in real estate while putting himself through Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, and began practicing law in 1949.

Gray also worked as a developer, and for many years sold living Christmas trees at lots scattered around Los Angeles County.

He may have been best known for an act of architectural preservation in 1980, when he planted a part of Iowa history on Crenshaw Boulevard in Torrance.

Acting on a whim after an aunt lamented that vintage Midwestern courthouses were falling to the wrecking ball, Gray placed an ad in an Iowa newspaper seeking to buy a courthouse that could be dismantled and transported to California.

The ad was answered by officials in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who had been planning to demolish the Pottawattamie County courthouse, built in 1885.

Gray paid $3,600 for the parts he was able to salvage, including a load of columns, marble flooring, cast-iron stairways, a safe and a judge's bench. He spent $2.5 million moving the items across the country and incorporating them into a new four-story building that met California's building and safety codes.

"My colleagues thought I was ding-a-ling," he said in 1980, but the structure became a Torrance landmark, so authentic-looking that passersby believed it had been moved brick by brick from Iowa. Gray turned it into an office building, with his law firm on the top floor, and maintained it as his base of operations until he moved to Palm Springs in the early 1990s, following the death of his first wife, Dorothy.

In addition to his son Jeff, he is survived by his second wife, Betty; another son, Dudley Gray Jr.; a daughter, Cynthia Gray Uruburu; and five grandchildren.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at St. Lawrence Martyr Church, 1900 S. Prospect Ave., Redondo Beach.

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