Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr.
Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr. (1906–1968) was an American businessman and philanthropist. He was founder of an insurance and savings and loan association, H.F. Ahmanson & Co., Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr. was also a philanthropist who made his fortune during the Great Depression selling fire insurance for property under foreclosure. He also bought real estate and invested in oil.
Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr., was born in 1906 in Omaha, Nebraska. When his father died in 1925, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, California. Enlisting in the United States Navy in 1943, he spent a year in Washington, D.C. as a procurement officer.
After returning to Los Angeles in 1945, he began investing in savings and loans. In 1947, he bought Home Building and Loan (later known as Home Savings). In an era when state and federal regulations limited branching, Ahmanson and his top executive, Kenneth D. Childs took advantage of the home construction and real estate boom around Los Angeles to make Home Savings and Loan the largest thrift in the United States.
Involved with the California Republican Party since the mid-1930s, he began to take a more active role in 1954 when his long-time friend Goodwin Knight ran for governor. With the national Republican convention slated to be held in San Francisco in 1956 and the possibility that two favorite sons—Knight and Richard Nixon—might be running for president, he became the focal point for a bitter fight within the party when Knight picked him to become vice chairman of the party. Although he was elected to the position, the fight further poisoned the relationship between Knight and Nixon. After a heart attack, he was forced to relinquish the position and withdraw from political leadership.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, Ahmanson began to play a major role in the cultural life of Los Angeles. He served on the board of the Museum of Science and Industry, helped found the support organization for the Los Angeles County Art Institute (also known as the Otis Art Institute), gave $2 million to help fund the construction of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, provided a major gift to support construction of the Music Center, and provided generous funding to his alma mater, the University of Southern California. He gave $1 million in 1962 to help fund the development of a biosciences research center.
He also influenced the cultural life of southern California when he hired the artist Millard Sheets in 1953 to begin designing Home Savings' branches. Sheets integrated the work of local muralists, ceramic and glass artists into the design of the buildings.
A successful yachtsman, he bought his first racing vessel in 1948 and named it Sirius. For years he sailed out of Newport Harbor. He was a multiple winner of the San Diego to Acapulco Race. In 1961, he and his crew aboard the Sirius II won the Transpac race to Honolulu. His crew included USC President Norman Topping, as well as the architect William Pereira.
In 1933, Ahmanson married Dorothy Johnston Grannis. They had one son, Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who was born in 1950. The couple divorced in 1962. In 1965, he married Caroline Leonetti, a fashion consultant who was a regular on the Art Linkletter show.
Ahmanson died on June 17, 1968 while traveling with his wife and son in Belgium. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. Numerous heirs inherited part of his fortune. A major portion of his assets went to the Ahmanson Foundation in Los Angeles.
- Eric John Abrahamson, Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013).
- Press Release, Knight for Governor, March 22, 1954 in Folder 28.47 - Southern California Primary, Box 28, Whitaker-Baxter Collection, California State Archives.
- Dick Turpin, "$1 Million Given to USC by Howard Ahmanson," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1962, A1.
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