Ann Sonne, reporter who covered L.A.'s growth as a cultural center, dies at 86

When Ann Sonne started at the Los Angeles Times, she wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

But, in 1953, she started where most female journalists did — the society section.

Enthusiastic to work at The Times, where she’d dreamed of working since she was a child growing up in Southern California, Sonne made the best of it. She quickly found herself falling more in love with L.A..

As a society reporter and editor, Sonne covered the opening of the original Music Center, a $33.5-million, three-theater complex, in 1964. Less than six months later, Sonne was present in 1965 when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened its new campus on Wilshire Boulevard.

“She was there when they were building [Los Angeles] up as a real city,” her daughter Lisa Sonne said. “She felt like she was part of the cultural change of L.A, and that was very exciting, sort of like being a foreign correspondent in your own country.”


Ann Sonne, who worked at The Times from 1953 to 1967, died July 12 at her home in Pasadena, surrounded by her family. She was 86.

Sonne was born Sept. 7, 1931, in San Diego. Her first home was the CM Ranch in Calexico.

Throughout her life, Sonne navigated through gender barriers quietly but persistently.

When she was about 14, Sonne decided she wanted to deliver newspapers, but the editor of the Brawley paper told her it was a boy’s job.

“But I can run as fast as the boys, and I can throw as far as the boys, so why can’t I do it?” she asked.

Sonne soon became the paper’s first delivery girl. But she got bored and went back to the editor, this time persuading him to let her write a weekly column about the latest news from her high school.

Sonne attended USC on a journalism scholarship and worked at the Daily Trojan as the women’s editor and student handbook editor. After she graduated in 1953, Sonne was hired as a reporter at The Times. She was promoted to society editor in 1964.

Sonne tried, as often as she could, to write not just about the glitz and glamour of fundraising galas, but also about charity picnics in Watts for foster children and other events that helped readers understand the many communities of Los Angeles.

A working mother, Sonne was an excellent multitasker, able to churn out a story on a typewriter while on the phone. Reporters would try to entertain her children with random items they found on their desks. After she was done with a story, her children would debate over who got to send it through the pneumatic tube to the composing room on the first floor.

Sonne’s family often accompanied her on assignments. She brought her children with her to tea parties in Hancock Park, telling them they could each have a maximum of two cookies. The entire family came with her to a hot air balloon event in Palm Springs, crammed in the family’s station wagon, serving as the chase vehicle if the balloon had trouble.

Soon after leaving The Times, Sonne started Ann Sonne Public Relations, buying her own stationery, setting up a second phone line at the home and enlisting her children to help with the business. “Ann Sonne Public Relations, can I help you?” her daughter Lisa Sonne remembered saying to clients on the phone.

When she did PR for Santa Anita Park, where a thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia opened in 1934, Sonne would take her children to watch the horses work out in the morning. They even worked for her on opening day, following a photographer around to collect information for captions.

When Sonne was hired to promote a restaurant at the Hollywood Bowl, that meant the kids saw shows and were exposed to the arts. And when Sonne did PR for Albert C. Martin & Associates — an architectural firm that created many landmark buildings in L.A. — she handed hard hats to the children so they could take in the view of L.A. from high above.

“Just to see that her curiosity and enthusiasm could be a profession was really exciting, to see that if you were interested in something, you could pursue it,” Lisa Sonne said.

At home, Sonne was the same energetic and adventurous person.

Each night, she’d go to each of her children and ask them about their days, making them feel as if their stories were the most important thing she’d heard all day.

Sonne loved gardening, playing tennis, running and plunging into the ocean. She’d wake up her family for a lunar eclipse, handing out hot chocolate as they watched the sky.

She was a great storyteller, but she’d rather listen to someone else’s story.

“She loved life, and she loved people,” Lisa Sonne said. “She would sometimes just smile and look around and say, ‘My cup runneth over.’ She was one of those people who had gratitude before it was a fashion statement. It was part of her nature to enjoy the day, and she really liked helping people.”

Ann Sonne is survived by her husband of 63 years, Ross, and their children Lisa, Maggie, Chris and Jamie.