Edward W. Carter, the retailing executive who took a handful of stores called The Broadway and turned them into the prototype modern suburban department store chain, died Thursday. He was 84.
Carter died of pancreatic cancer at his Bel-Air home, said his son, William D. Carter of Los Altos Hills, Calif., who was with him at his death.
The scholarly merchant was also a University of California regent, philanthropist, fund-raiser and prominent art collector who promised his collection of 17th century Dutch paintings to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he helped to create.
Born in Cumberland, Md., on June 29, 1911, Edward William Carter moved as a child to Los Angeles. The self-made businessman got his first job at age 10, as a printer’s devil in a Los Angeles print shop, to help support his widowed mother and sister.
He later went to work in the tailoring room of the now-defunct Silverwoods menswear chain, where he learned, he once told an interviewer, that salesmen “made the most money.” He promptly set out to become one.
A Hollywood High School graduate, Carter attended UCLA while working 40 hours a week at Silverwoods on Wilshire Boulevard, becoming in his own words “a damned good salesman.” By 1932, he rang up about 25% of the store’s sales.
Carter went on to Harvard Business School, where he received his master’s degree cum laude in 1937.
Even before joining the Broadway Department Store as executive vice president in 1946, Carter was well known in retailing circles. Besides his six years with Silverwoods, he also spent eight years at May Co., rising to the post of divisional merchandise manager. In addition, he was an account manager with the Scudder, Stevens & Clark investment firm in Boston.
Carter became president of the three-store Broadway chain in 1947, taking charge of a concern that he later said ranked “last among Los Angeles department stores in both size and in stature.”
Within months, Carter built one of the nation’s first suburban shopping centers, the Crenshaw Center, on a former golf course. (The Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza sits there now.) During the boom years after World War II, Carter studied the freeway map and built his stores accordingly.
To finance his ambitious expansion plans, Carter sold stock to Hale Bros. Stores of San Francisco in 1949, and the two chains merged in 1950 to become Broadway-Hale Inc. As with all of Broadway’s later acquisitions, the Hale operation retained its name and management and was run as a separate division.
Other acquisitions followed with such respected names as Emporium Capwell, Neiman Marcus, Waldenbooks and Bergdorf Goodman. Carter was considered well versed in consumer trends and an innovative merchant who chose a decentralized approach to retailing that allowed Broadway-Hale’s various chains to operate independently with substantial autonomy.
In 1972, Carter handed the chief executive post to Philip M. Hawley and became chairman of Broadway-Hale Stores.
By that time Broadway-Hale operated 54 department stores under the names of Broadway, Emporium, Capwell’s and Weinstock’s in California, Arizona and Nevada. The company also operated five Neiman Marcus stores in Texas and Florida, and the Waldenbooks chain and the Sunset House mail order business.
In 1974, the corporation was renamed Carter Hawley Hale Stores to reflect the leadership roles of Carter and Hawley. Nine years later, Carter retired as chairman.
(Carter Hawley Hale no longer exists. The company spun off its specialty store operations in 1987 to avoid a corporate takeover.
(High debt and a poor retailing climate pushed the remaining department store operations to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Court protection in 1991. The company, renamed Broadway Stores, was sold to Federated Department Stores in 1995. Federated said all Broadway stores would be sold, closed or converted to Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s stores.)
In March 1952, Carter was appointed by then-Gov. Earl Warren to the University of California Board of Regents. Carter was considered a moderate on the board, and his 36-year tenure spanned some of the institution’s most tumultuous times, including the campus unrest of the 1960s and the debate in the mid-1980s about whether to sell the university’s $3.1 billion worth of investments in businesses that had ties to South Africa.
By age 40, Carter was a millionaire, and he became involved in philanthropic pursuits, with an emphasis on the arts and education.
“I was successful enough early enough so that I could choose how I wanted to spend my time,” the businessman told an interviewer in 1971. “I spend about a third of it on nonbusiness activities. This has broadened me and has probably made me a better merchant.”
Carter was a storied fund-raiser who could drum up millions of dollars for a worthy cause in a single morning. It was Carter who agreed to raise money for an art museum in the Hancock Park area if the county would donate the land, underwrite the museum’s operating expenses and authorize an independent board to manage the museum.
Carter was a major donor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was LACMA’s founding president. A gallery at the museum bears his name. He once nonchalantly described his valuable collection of 50 or so 17th century Dutch paintings, which has been promised to LACMA, as “landscapes, seascapes, country scenes, townscapes and still life.”
Carter donated a two-acre Japanese garden in Bel-Air to his alma mater, which dubbed it the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.
Carter and his second wife, Hannah, were Music Center founders and remained loyal and substantial supporters, becoming Gold Circle Patrons of the Arts, a category reserved for those who donate $500,000 to the Music Center. Carter served on the Music Center Foundation Board, the Opera Board and the Performing Arts Council, the center’s policy-making and fund-raising arm, which is now called the Unified Fund. Carter was a trustee and president of the Southern California Symphony-Hollywood Bowl Assn.
During his long career, Carter served on the board of trustees of Occidental College, as a director of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the California Retailers Assn., the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Northrop Aircraft Corp. and California Bank.
Carter was married first to Christine Dailey Carter, the mother of his two children, William and Ann Carter Huneke of Menlo Park, Calif. Carter’s second wife, Hannah Locke Carter, a member of the U.S. Olympic ski team in 1936, was also with him at the time of his death.
Other survivors include Carter’s sister, Ruth Campbell of Los Angeles, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 580 Hilgard Ave., Westwood.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Edward W. Carter Memorial Fund at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.