Victor Carter, 94; Businessman Gave Time, Money to Southland Charities

Times Staff Writer

Victor M. Carter, who built a fortune in building supplies and motion pictures and spent much of it in philanthropic efforts in Southern California, has died. He was 94.

Carter died Saturday at Century City Hospital of natural causes, said his daughter, Fanya Carter.

In 1949, Carter bought an ailing Van Nuys lumber and hardware store called Builders Emporium. He built it into a leading self-serve retail operation and the biggest hardware store in the United States before selling it in 1956 to “retire.”

“I had worked very hard,” he told The Times in 1987, “and I wanted to clear my mind, get the cobwebs out and think of something new to do.”


He bought and redeveloped a shopping center in the San Fernando Valley, and in 1959 acquired controlling interest and became president and board chairman of the struggling film company Republic Pictures. He turned that company around, diversifying into plastics and appliances as well as film and studio rentals and renaming it Republic Corp., before selling his stock in 1967.

Carter over the years served as president and fundraiser of several organizations, including the United Way, the Japan American Society of Southern California, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. He was general chairman of the United Jewish Welfare Fund, head of the State of Israel Bond Organization, founder and former chairman of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, and chairman of the university’s international board of governors, and served on the board of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He chose his philanthropies, he claimed, by happenstance. “People ask me,” he told The Times in 1987, “and it’s pretty hard to say no.”

Carter did indeed seem to bestow gifts eclectically -- a station wagon for the Spastic Children’s Foundation, three architecture scholarships for USC, and generous checks for the Muscular Dystrophy Appeal of Southern California after the disease killed his son.


In 1984, the Greater Los Angeles United Way created the Victor M. Carter Humanitarian Award for someone whose life is a “humbling example of public service and commitment to his fellow man.” Carter was the first recipient.

In 1987, the United Way of America presented Carter its highest honor, the Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award in ceremonies at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., citing his commitment to racial equality.

As president, board chairman and a major fundraiser for the City of Hope in Duarte, Carter helped build the complex from a struggling clinic into one of the world’s principal cancer research centers. His father served as president of the City of Hope before him.

Carter was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 12. At 16, he quit school to work full time in his father’s hardware store in downtown Los Angeles. Two years later, Carter met Adrea Zucker, the daughter of a customer, and married her in Tijuana after a five-day courtship. On their 50th anniversary, they remarried at Hillcrest Country Club.


Carter left the hardware store in his late 20s to go into business for himself -- starting a firm that manufactured window sashes made from steel. As that business waned with changes in manufacturing needs during World War II, Carter moved into national sales and distribution of wall heaters and door locks. At the end of the decade, he bought Builders Emporium.

In addition to his wife of 75 years and his daughter, Carter is survived by a sister, Bella Gans; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.