Dick Turpin, a longtime real estate editor of The Times and part of the team that won the paper a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 1965 Watts riots, has died. He was 91.
Turpin died in his sleep Friday at the Northridge Care Center in Reseda, said his son, David.
Turpin spent 41 years at The Times, working as a reporter and education editor before becoming real estate editor in 1967. Under his leadership, the section three times was named the best in the country and was consistently ranked in the top five by the National Assn. of Real Estate Editors.
By the time he retired in 1989, Turpin had witnessed “the unprecedented building boom after World War II and the creation of a downtown skyline where there had been only one beacon, the pristine City Hall,” he wrote in his final column as real estate editor.
“Those two decades saw the constant, unending proliferation of homes and businesses throughout the Southland, supplanting farms, ranches, orchards and even a riverbed or two.”
David Turpin said his father had “absolutely no knowledge of real estate” when he was named the section’s editor in 1967 but was “gratified” to be chosen by Times Publisher Otis Chandler. Turpin’s task was to infuse the paper’s real estate coverage with editorial independence.
In Marshall Berges’ 1984 book “The Life and Times of Los Angeles,” then-Associate Editor Jean Sharley Taylor described the section’s transformation during Turpin’s era.
“In the old days it was essentially an advertising supplement that featured openings of houses and these were connected, more or less, to nearby placement of ads,” she said. “We have gradually moved away from this to build a fairly strong editorial section — a news approach to real estate — and we brought in environmental, architectural and financial writers from elsewhere on the staff.”
Turpin brought solid news credentials to the job. He had served 10 years an education editor at The Times, observing and reporting on “the dynamic growth of Los Angeles and California,” said a 1967 story announcing his appointment as real estate editor. And he was part of the Metro staff that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for local reporting of the Watts riots.
Born Dick F. Tarpinian in Adana, Turkey, on July 17, 1919, he grew up in Stoneham, Mass., with his parents and sister. His father, who spoke five languages and had been a pharmacist, became a cabinet maker in America.
When he was 14, Turpin persuaded his mother to let him travel to New York by himself to attend the 1934 All-Star baseball game. He took the train and stayed with relatives in Brooklyn, an adventure he wrote about in The Times in 1994.
The family moved to Los Angeles in 1936. Turpin graduated from Fremont High School and earned an associate of arts degree in 1941 from Los Angeles City College. He was among a small group of former students honored by the college during its 75th anniversary, David Turpin said.
His first newspaper job was with the Burbank Daily Review as a reporter and sports editor. In 1942, Turpin enlisted in the Marines and served three years during World War II, mostly in the Pacific theater.
He changed his last name to Turpin early in his journalism career, his son said.
After the war, Turpin returned to the Burbank paper as its city editor. In 1948 he was hired by The Times as a reporter-photographer. He became a general assignment reporter in 1951 and education editor in 1957.
He was nominated for a Pulitzer in 1961 for a series of stories comparing high school graduation rates in America and the Soviet Union. He also received several awards for his writing, including from the California Teachers Assn. and the National Assn. of Real Estate Editors.
Turpin is survived by his wife, June; sons Andrew of San Rafael and David of Santa Barbara from his first marriage to Jeri Turpin; a sister, Ruth Lerian of Lakewood; four grandchildren; 10 step-grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. A second marriage ended in divorce.
Services will be private.