William T. "Bill" Huston, former chairman of one of Southern California's oldest and largest real estate companies, died Wednesday at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 83.
Huston, who headed Watson Land Co. for 40 years, was one of the builders who transformed Los Angeles from a largely pastoral region into a metropolis in the decades after World War II.
When Huston took over the Carson-based company in 1963, its primary asset was about 1,200 acres in the South Bay that dated to a Spanish land grant. The land was mostly rented to truck farmers who raised beans and other vegetables, he recalled upon his retirement as chairman in 2003.
In 1964 Huston began promoting the concept of master-planned industrial parks in suburban settings. At the time, manufacturers typically located in downtown districts. The suburban model he promulgated is standard today in Southern California, the country's largest industrial real estate market.
Watson Land has industrial parks in the South Bay and the Inland Empire, where imported goods pour in before being distributed across the country.
"Bill grew the company very strategically to respond to the growth in the L.A. and Long Beach ports," said Darla Longo, vice chairwoman of real estate brokerage CB Richard Ellis. "He was forward-thinking in the design and development of his buildings, changing them as his users' needs changed."
Huston was born July 8, 1927, in Omaha. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he earned a law degree at the University of Notre Dame. He worked for the FBI and completed graduate work to become a tax attorney.
In 1954 he married Susana Dolores Watson, a descendant of the family that once controlled Rancho San Pedro, California's first Spanish land grant that included 75,000 acres in and around what now is Carson.
The couple lived in Pasadena. Huston is survived by his wife, eight children and 18 grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Bede's the Venerable Catholic Church, 215 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge.