Howard Drollinger, 84; Developer Helped Build Downtown Westchester

Times Staff Writer

Howard Blaine Drollinger, a businessman who followed in his developer mother’s footsteps and who helped create and expand downtown Westchester, has died. He was 84.

Drollinger, who remained a major investor in the area’s business district for almost 60 years, died of lung cancer Sunday at his home in Playa del Rey, said Geoff Maleman, a consultant for his company.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, reached by phone on his way to Drollinger’s funeral Thursday, said he considered the developer one of the city’s great citizens.


“He put Westchester on the map” by investing millions of his own money in retail properties, Riordan said.

In a statement, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl said, “Howard always put his community first -- whether it was by fighting LAX expansion, spearheading economic development, or lending his name, time and his resources to community beautification projects.”

Westchester’s first large commercial building was a Jim Dandy market built in 1944 by Drollinger’s mother, Ella, who was a “pioneering real estate developer when it wasn’t a woman’s domain,” Maleman said.

Her son joined the family business as a developer after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business from USC in 1947.

Today, H.B. Drollinger Co. is the largest landowner and property manager in the Westchester business district along Sepulveda Boulevard, Maleman said.

In the mid-1950s, the area was featured in Life magazine as a flourishing commercial zone that helped the surrounding residential area take root after World War II.

The business district began its decline in 1975 when Los Angeles International Airport’s expansion eliminated more than 3,500 homes, taking away an estimated 10,000 residents. About the same time, Fox Hills Mall opened in nearby Culver City, siphoning off more shoppers.

The downturn lasted about 15 years, but Drollinger said in 2002 that he “never lost faith in Westchester.”

“Howard used to tell me, ‘Everybody told me I should leave. I knew the community would come back.’ He was one of the few who continued to buy property and reinvest,” Maleman said.

The area had been developed in a post-World War II style, with the buildings on the main boulevard and parking behind. Potential customers driving by who didn’t know where to park didn’t bother to stop, Drollinger had theorized.

To lure back shoppers, he built a retail village in 1995 anchored by a Ralphs supermarket with parking in front. Other retail stores and restaurants have followed.

Drollinger was born June 16, 1922, in Los Angeles and grew up in South Pasadena. His father, Blaine, was an electrical engineer who died when the future developer was about 16.

During World War II, Drollinger was an Army Air Forces navigator and flew in 50 combat missions over Italy.

A dedicated philanthropist who preferred to donate anonymously, he would boast about one achievement: For more than 50 years, he had perfect attendance at weekly Rotary Club meetings.

Drollinger is survived by his second wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1998; daughter Karen Dial of Missoula, Mont.; son Jim of Westchester; brother Bob of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.

His first wife, Jewel, died in 1996 after 46 years of marriage.

Times staff writer Martha Groves contributed to this report.