Joseph B. Koepfli, 100; Caltech Chemist and LACMA Benefactor

Times Staff Writer

Joseph B. Koepfli, a Caltech chemistry researcher who helped launch the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as a trustee, treasurer and benefactor, has died at the age of 100.

Koepfli died Oct. 30 in Santa Barbara of natural causes.

A leading figure in the Southern California cultural community for several decades, Koepfli served as trustee of the Southern California Symphony-Hollywood Bowl Assn. and was board president from 1964 to 1966.

But he was best known for his extensive efforts to create and nurture LACMA. In 1953, Koepfli joined the board of trustees of the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum) and worked for many years to carve out a separate art museum.


When LACMA emerged, he was a founding benefactor and funded the purchase of about 40 works of art for its departments of South and Southeast Asian art and of European painting and sculpture, prints and drawings.

He also became a trustee of LACMA in 1962, served as treasurer from 1970 to 1974 and chaired several board committees until his retirement in 1977, when he was given the title honorary life trustee.

Koepfli spent his professional career largely in research at Caltech, after serving from 1929 to 1932 as instructor of pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, only to concede that he didn’t care much for teaching. His field was organic chemistry, emphasizing such substances as adrenalin and insulin, and he helped a Caltech team develop oxypolygelatin, a substitute for blood plasma.

During World War II Koepfli worked for the government devising antimalarial drugs. He returned intermittently to government posts throughout his career, serving as scientific attache to the American Embassy in London from 1947 to 1948, science advisor to the Department of State from 1951 to 1953 and chair of the NATO task force on science and technology in 1957. He subsequently advised the National Science Foundation, UNESCO and other government entities.

Born in Los Angeles, where his father was a well-to-do lawyer and businessman, Koepfli attended the Harvard School academy and later was named to its board of trustees. He traveled widely with his family in Europe prior to World War I, enhancing his appreciation of art.

Koepfli earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Stanford University and a doctorate from Oxford University before becoming a research fellow at Caltech in 1928. He retired as senior research associate emeritus in 1974.

He is survived by his wife, Ann; his daughter from a previous marriage, Daphne Moore; two granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren. His son David died in 1995.

At his request, no funeral will be conducted. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to Caltech or LACMA.