Reflections on Ben Weingart (1888-1980)
Ben Weingart’s life began in poverty, but when he died in December 1980, his Southern California real estate holdings were comprised mostly of hotels, shopping centers and apartment buildings worth many millions of dollars. He probably was best known as the man who led the multimillion-dollar venture that created a new town, the City of Lakewood, on what previously were sugar-beet and bean fields.
Built after World War II on a scale grander than Levittown, its famous Eastern counterpart, Lakewood was the first planned city in Southern California. In the 1950s Weingart purchased 3,500 acres of agricultural land from Montana Land Co. and, in the years following, developed the new community of 18,000 homes and the 156-acre Lakewood Center, one of Southern California’s first shopping malls.
In planning to develop Lakewood, Weingart and his then partners, Mark Taper and Louis Boyar, foresaw a fundamental shift in population patterns that soon would transform Los Angeles into one of the nation’s primary urban centers.
Weingart’s generosity was a visible element in Lakewood’s growth and development. His long association with and affection for the city can be seen today in the many public facilities made possible by the Weingart Foundation: a civic center, community service center, library, YMCA and senior center.
For more than half a century Weingart’s keen business sense earned him the respect and admiration of the financial community and the real estate industry of Southern California. Always considering himself as the steward for the benefit of society of the fortune he accumulated he and his wife, Stella established the Weingart Foundation in 1951.
Born in Atlanta, Ben Weingart was orphaned at the age of five and was brought up by a foster mother on a Georgia farm. He worked as a farmhand and attended school through eighth grade, but was self-taught beyond that point to become a well-educated man. He arrived in Los Angeles at age 18, and his first job was delivering laundry with a horse and buggy to downtown hotels and boarding houses.
With savings from his job and acquired financial assistance, Weingart purchased not only the laundry, but also many of the hotels to which he once delivered laundry.
The life of Ben Weingart epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit that characterized much of the early growth of the American free enterprise system. He was highly intelligent, motivated man of innovative ideas, exceptional foresight and an unusual ability to develop his ideas and plans into reality. His friends and business associates remember him for his delightful sense of humor, his loyalty, integrity and shrewd business judgment.
Weingart Foundation is a living memorial to Ben Weingart’s ability and desire to return the fruits of his success to build better lives for those in the communities where he made his fortune.