Verdugo Views: The rich history of the Lawson family

For many years, John M. “Jack” Lawson was one of Glendale’s most prominent players. He took over the reins of the family business when his father passed away in 1944 and left a huge operation that included industrial and commercial properties, investments and apartment buildings.

Jack Lawson was involved in many local philanthropic and social groups, was elected to Glendale City Council, served as mayor and later headed Valley National Bank.

Born in 1904 to John W. and Margaret Lawson, he came to Glendale at the age of 3, attending local schools and Occidental College. After graduating in 1925, he began working as a clerk for the Southern California Telephone Co.

He met a young woman named Helen O’Keefe in 1932. Her father was a friend of Leslie Brand’s family from back in Missouri, and O’Keefe had come to Glendale to visit the Brands. While here, she was introduced to Lawson, and they married the next year.

Lawson continued at the phone company for 21 years, becoming general personnel manager, but his father’s death, during World War II, put him in charge of the Lawson empire. After the war ended, he left the phone company to concentrate on the family business, according to an unidentified newspaper, dated Feb. 8, 1951, on file in Special Collections.

That was the year that Lawson ran for city council. At the time, he was a director of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, a director in the Rotary Club and president of the Verdugo Club, which he helped found. He had served on the committee to select the city’s float design for the 1951 Tournament of Roses parade and, at election time, was organizing a Yankees-White Sox exhibition game.

“Glendale is my home city,” he was quoted as saying. “I have lived here since I was 3 years old, attended local schools, raised my children here and my business affiliations are here. I have no axes to grind and no commitments to fulfill.”

His daughter Ann was then 14 and his son, John M. Jr., was 11. His two sisters, Edna (married to former Yankees Manager Casey Stengel) and Mae Hunter, and a brother, Lawrence, also lived here.

The Lawsons lived on Campbell Street and were good friends with John and Frances Pagliuso, who lived on Ridgeway Drive. Their son, Jim Pagliuso, said the two families did a lot together. “I never knew the genesis of their [the Lawsons’] money, but it was a wealthy family. He never seemed to have a job, never had the stress of a business before he began the bank. He was a nice guy, a jovial guy.”

Glendale in those days was a lot different from now, Pagliuso reminisced. Both his father and Lawson were members of the Verdugo Club and of the Oakmont Country Club. “My dad would enter a room filled with people; he’d know everyone. Jack Lawson was the same way.” Pagliuso said there were 20 or 30 local men who often socialized together. “They were very involved with the Days of Verdugo events, with Lions Club and other groups.”

The Lawsons moved to Cumberland Road in 1955. When their daughter Ann was married, Pagliuso served as an altar boy and attended the reception at the Lawson home afterward. “There were all these people there, including Bob Wian of Bob’s Big Boy.”

Lawson was reelected to the council in 1955, but resigned in 1957 to concentrate on his new venture, Valley National Bank.

Readers Write:

George Ellison of Special Collections answers a query (Verdugo Views, July 10, 2011) regarding the origin of Willard Avenue in Northwest Glendale. “Willard Avenue, from 6200 San Fernando Road, was laid out through a subdivision handled by Willard Fry and was given his name.” Willard runs between San Fernando and Glenoaks Boulevard.

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