REAL ESTATE : Developer Lyon Will Be Honored for Excellence by Building Industry Assn.

Compiled by John O'Dell Times staff writer

William Lyon--home builder, retired general of the Air Force Reserve, adviser to and fund-raiser for presidents of the Republican persuasion, entrepreneur and philanthropist--is to be honored Oct. 11 by his peers in Orange County’s building industry.

“The General,” as he prefers to be called, has been selected as the second recipient of the Tribute to Excellence award that the county chapter of the Building Industry Assn. began bestowing on industry luminaries last year. John D. Lusk, chairman of the Lusk Co., was the inaugural recipient.

Master of ceremonies at the dinner fete will be fellow builder and former business partner George Argyros. The two once owned Air California, which they rescued from bankruptcy in 1981 and sold to American Airlines in 1987 at a profit of about $10 million apiece.

Lyon’s self-named William Lyon Co. has been one of the state’s largest home builders for years but has fallen on hard times, like many development companies after nearly four years of recession. Sluggish home sales and falling property values have made it difficult for the company to stay current on payments for the hundreds of millions of dollars it borrowed to buy raw land in the booming 1980s.


Lyon isn’t alone in his woes: Scores of smaller builders have gone under in the past three years and a number of industry notables, including Baldwin Co., Presley Cos., Lusk Co. and Fieldstone Co., have had varying degrees of problems with their banks.

While the recognition is being bestowed by a building industry group, it isn’t just for Lyon’s activities in that industry, said Christine Diemer, executive director of the BIA’s local chapter.

While Lyon is “one of the country’s premier builders and a leader in our industry,” she said, he also “has been a major force in many notable charities and community programs.”

Lyon has been chairman and chief executive of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, chairman of the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, which raised funds to build and operate the Orangewood home for abused children, and chairman of the county council of the Boy Scouts of America.