Louis J. Galen, a financier who was a leading figure for decades in the savings and loan industry and a philanthropist closely tied to his alma mater, USC, died Monday at his home in Rancho Mirage after a brief illness, his family said. He was 82.
Galen, who had struggled lately with heart problems, perhaps was best known in recent years for spurring the construction of USC's 10,258-seat sports-and-entertainment arena on Figueroa Street, the Galen Center.
With his wife, Helene, Galen gave a series of gifts totaling $50 million for the arena. It opened late last year after being envisioned for decades as a cornerstone of the university's efforts to upgrade its intercollegiate basketball program.
But Galen, who moved to Los Angeles at age 6 with his mother, Faye, from Youngstown, Ohio, after his father died, first made his name in finance.
While in law school at USC, Galen and his mother formed Lynwood Savings & Loan. It grew into one of the major California-based thrift institutions, World Savings & Loan, and was brought under the umbrella of the Trans World Financial holding company.
Galen's savings and loan organization merged with Golden West Financial of Oakland in 1975 to become one of the nation's biggest savings institutions. Galen remained on the board of that company until it was acquired last year by Wachovia Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.
Separately, Galen was chairman of a commercial bank in the San Fernando Valley, Transworld Bank, which was sold to Glendale Federal in 1997. He was known for a conservative approach toward his businesses that provided protection against the boom-and-bust cycles that victimized many of his competitors.
On Galen's corporate board for a time was Alan Greenspan, the economist who later became chairman of the Federal Reserve. Galen "was the kind of person who could attract somebody of that type to his board," said Herbert Sandler, a former chairman and chief executive of Golden West Financial.
Sandler called Galen "one of the pioneers of the [savings and loan] industry -- what was the best of that industry, not what people remember of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s."
Galen grew up in West Los Angeles, graduating from Fairfax High School. He was a bombardier in the Army Air Forces during World War II, flying missions in Europe.
After the war, he attended USC on the GI Bill and eventually earned his law degree from the university in 1951. He practiced law briefly, before deciding on a career in business, initially getting involved in home-building as well as the savings and loan industry.
Galen never played sports for USC, but his enthusiasm for the university's teams started when he was a boy, when he worked at the Coliseum as a hot dog vendor at Trojan football games.
"I loved it because you couldn't sell during the games, so we had to sit and watch," he told the Hollywood Reporter last year.
Years later Galen proposed marriage to Helene, his second wife, in front of 3,000 people at a USC-Notre Dame football rally, and he presented her with a Trojan marching band helmet on their wedding day. Galen's marriage to his first wife, the former Dena Wallerstein, with whom he had three children, ended in divorce.
"In all my years as a college coach, I've never seen anybody who gave more, who lived for their school more, who was more interested in the future after he left this Earth than Lou," said Tim Floyd, coach of the USC men's basketball team.
Along with the donations for the Galen Center, Galen and his wife also contributed to a sports-themed dining facility at USC's Heritage Hall that opened in 1999.
In addition they endowed the Helene and Louis Galen Ceramics Studio in the USC School of Fine Arts and the Helene V. Galen Intermedia Lab.
"Lou's legacy will live on through the many buildings and programs that bear the Galen name," USC President Steven B. Sample said in a prepared statement.
The Galens also contributed to the Palm Springs Art Museum, Eisenhower Medical Center, the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center, the McCallum Theatre, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, the Anti-Defamation League, Hebrew University and Cedars Sinai Medical Center, as well as the art and medical schools at USC.
Along with his wife of 32 years, Galen is survived by their five children, Stafford Galen of Ingot, Calif.; Janet Galen of Duncansville, Pa.; Kenneth Galen of Rio De Janeiro; Dori Peterman Mostov of Los Angeles; and Nancy Peterman Goldstein of Mill Valley, Calif.; eleven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services are planned for 11 a.m. Thursday at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, friends contribute to the charity of their choice.
Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this story.