Louis R. Nowell dies at 94; former Los Angeles city councilman

Louis Nowell, on his yacht in 1980, was monitored by two community activists — a husband and wife named Jerry and Betty Decter who had spent years documenting what the couple called Nowell’s "indiscretions."
(Los Angeles Times)

Louis R. Nowell, a Los Angeles city councilman who served for 14 years and resigned in the late 1970s, days after coming under fire for taking a trip to Mexico funded by billboard companies with a vested interest, has died. He was 94.

Nowell, who also spent more than two decades as a city firefighter, died July 2 in Camarillo, his family announced. A cause of death was not given.

When Nowell delivered his political requiem before the council in 1976, he announced that he would retire the next year. He said that he could “stand the heat” of politics but that his wife and family could not. His voice broke, and he appeared to be near tears.

Two community activists -- husband and wife Jerry and Betty Decter -- had spent years documenting what the couple called Nowell’s “indiscretions.”

The revelations included Nowell’s failing to properly report $19,700 raised at a 1972 testimonial dinner aboard the Queen Mary and mooring a yacht for four months at a public landing without paying docking fees. Firms lobbying for the defeat of a billboard-control ordinance had paid for the Mexican vacation.

In each case, Nowell admitted to the accusations but insisted that he was a victim of hounding by the Decters, anti-growth activists infuriated by his often pro-development politics. Jerry Decter died June 24 at 85.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was a city councilman in 1977 when he told The Times, “Louie was driving himself out of office. Not a week went by that he didn’t refer to the Decters. He had no one to blame but himself.”

After joining the City Council in 1963, Nowell was known as a conservative who relished free enterprise. He was “the hero of developers and the unemployed hard-hat construction workers” who benefited from his push for development, according to a 1976 Times article.

He largely represented the San Fernando Valley and helped preserve the Andres Pico Adobe, built in 1834 in what is now Mission Hills. He also helped protect Sun Valley’s Stonehurst Recreation Center Building, a river-rock structure that dates to about 1930.

Nowell unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1969 and 1973.

Born in 1915 in Salt Lake City, Nowell was the son of a blacksmith who later became a traveling salesman. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1930. During the Depression, Nowell left school to work as a punch-press operator but returned after two years to finish high school and then attend Los Angeles City College.

In 1940, he joined the Los Angeles Fire Department and was a captain when he was elected president of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Protective League in 1962. A year later, Nowell was appointed to the City Council to fill the seat left vacant by Everett Burkhalter, who had been elected to the U.S. Congress.

With his wife and other family members, Nowell took what was billed as a “great adventure, the culmination of a lifelong ambition” when in 1972 he sailed his newly purchased schooner from Honolulu to San Pedro.

Nowell’s survivors include his wife, Maxine, and two sons.

Memorial donations may be made to the Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund, 815 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90041.