Bernard B. Roth, founder of South Gate-based World Oil Corp. and an early promoter of self-service gas stations at a time when pumping your own gas was considered novel and possibly dangerous, has died. He was 95.
He died Sunday night at his Beverly Hills home from complications of old age, his sons Steve and Bob said.
Like many of Southern California’s older entrepreneurs, Roth came to California from elsewhere. Born June 27, 1915, in St. Louis, Roth was 15 when he moved with his family to California and only 22 when he bought his first gas station at Florence and Normandie avenues in South Los Angeles.
Confident that his business would grow, Roth ambitiously named his company World Oil Corp.
“He had big ideas at the time with only a single gas station,” Steve Roth said. “We call that moxie.”
At first, his station struggled until Roth hit on the idea of slashing gas prices by 5 cents a gallon by getting rid of attendants and having customers pump their own gas. He took ads out in local newspapers, his sons said, that boasted: “We don’t wash your windows. We just sell you gas for less.”
By the 1970s, Roth owned and operated more than 30 gas stations all over California equipped with convenience stores so harried folks could grab snacks and a coffee on the go.
He also began buying and opening stations branded with some of the biggest names in the oil industry — Royal Dutch Shell, Arco, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
“But he always owned the land and the stations themselves,” Bob Roth said. “He built the business brick by brick.”
With the elder Roth as chief executive and chairman, the family-owned World Oil Corp. eventually diversified into real estate, asphalt and oil recycling, but still owns about 80 gas stations in Los Angeles County and more than 40 others in California.
Together with his wife, Roth started the Florence and Bernard B. Roth Family Foundation and donated millions of dollars to various organizations such as the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, his sons said.
In addition to his sons Steve of Beverly Hills and Bob of Newport Beach, he is survived by Florence, his wife of 74 years; another son, Richard of New York; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.