Randall Presley dies at 93; one of California’s top home builders

Soon after developer Randall E. Presley took his company public in 1969, he announced plans to build homes in Capistrano Beach that would “break the price barrier” for ocean-view residences there. Prices ranged from $23,000 to $29,000.

By then, Presley had already built homes in 50 California subdivisions. His Presley Development Co. would construct at least 110 more residential communities in the state and points east before he negotiated a takeover of the company in 1984.

Presley, once one of the state’s leading home builders, died April 12 at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach of complications from pneumonia, said his wife, Cecilia. He was 93.

His success was based in part on “smart land-buying strategy” and the designing of complete communities with a variety of housing and amenities such as golf courses or tennis courts, The Times reported in 1984.

At the time, the company had about 40 projects underway in California, Arizona and New Mexico. One of his developments, the equestrian-oriented Nellie Gail Ranch in Laguna Hills, has been called “the Beverly Hills of Orange County.”

As a chief executive, Presley was known for an entrepreneurial streak and for his firm’s honesty in advertising. Presley ads listed the lowest and highest price in each subdivision and included quality maps that showed where properties truly were.

The year Presley turned 65, the company — then known as Presley Cos. — was taken over by Pacific Lighting Corp in a stock-swap deal worth about $115 million to shareholders and an estimated $38 million to Presley.

Randall Edward Presley was born in 1919 in Pensacola, Fla., and worked as a model in New York City before discovering California as an Army Air Forces pilot during World War II.

Stationed at an Orange County military base, Presley served as a flight instructor. After the war, he started out in Bakersfield as a real estate broker and moved into residential construction in 1951.

When he saw how quickly Southern California was growing, he moved his family and business to Newport Beach in 1963, his wife said.

A private man, Presley maintained an uncharacteristically high profile in the early 1980s as chairman of the Committee for Monetary Reform, which he co-founded to lobby for changes in the Federal Reserve.

As a philanthropist, Presley was especially committed to the Salvation Army, his wife said. He also funded the construction of the Cecil B. DeMille Research Room at USC’s Doheny Library. His connection to the filmmaker was personal. On a blind date, Presley met DeMille’s granddaughter, Cecilia, and married her in 1961.

In addition to his wife, Presley is survived by two sons, Randall of Northern California and Terry of Newport Beach; a daughter, Pamela of Bakersfield; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.