|Alphonzo Bell Jr., who represented Los Angeles' influential Westside
in Congress for eight terms and was a scion of the pioneering ranching,
oil and development family that gave its name to the Southern California
communities of Bell, Bell Gardens and Bel-Air, has died. He was 89.
Bell died Sunday at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica of complications
The patrician politician's death came just 18 days after that of
his wife of 34 years, actress and tennis champion Marian McCargo
In Congress, Bell, a multimillionaire Republican, became known
as mildly hawkish on foreign policy -- he backed the Vietnam War
through three presidential administrations -- but often liberal
on domestic issues that included open housing laws and other civil
Some called Bell a political conservative, others a moderate. A
Ralph Nader study on Bell's voting record in 1972 said: "It's
hard to say exactly what he is. He leans in many areas, especially
those concerning economic regulation, toward the conservatives.
When it comes to the people issues, especially those concerning
the downtrodden in American society, Bell is a liberal."
The congressman described himself as "middle-ground"
and said he voted according to principle and an issue's merits rather
than political expediency. A moderate, he told a Times columnist
in 1970, has to study harder. "The extremist at either end
doesn't have to do most of the work or most of the thinking -- he
knows what he's for and against beforehand. A moderate has to decide
each question on its own merits."
As a ranking member of the House committees on Science and Astronautics
and on Education and Labor, he earned bipartisan approval for his
work on such diverse bills as the Older Americans Act, the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act, the Housing and Urban Development Act
of 1968 and laws improving labor standards, workers' safety, veterans'
benefits and environmental protection programs. He helped create
a public park in the Santa Monica Mountains and open San Onofre
beaches to the public.
From 1950 to 1977, Bell represented a vast congressional district
-- the 28th and, after redistricting, the 27th -- running along
the coast from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula and encompassing
all or part of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel-Air
and West L.A. Then considered a Republican stronghold, the district
nevertheless had only 40% to 49% GOP voter registration, and bipartisan
approval was essential.
Wealthy, handsome and mild-mannered, Bell had no trouble appealing
to voters in both parties. In 1964, he won reelection with the largest
margin of any Republican congressman that year, and in 1966 he won
by the largest plurality of any congressman of either party.
He was so well-liked that one of his campaign aides once complained
about the problems of raising Bell's visibility outside his own
district, saying: "As a political figure without a breath of
scandal, he never got much in the newspapers."
Bell was unable, however, to transfer his popularity into winning
higher office. He tried twice -- with an effort to unseat incumbent
Sam Yorty in the Los Angeles mayoral race in 1969 and, in 1976,
vying for a U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat John V. Tunney. Yorty
retained his office, and Tunney fell to S.I. Hayakawa, who defeated
Bell in the Republican primary.
The mayoral race illustrated Bell's independence and determination
to do what he believed in even though it could harm him politically.
After he lost the primary, he actively campaigned for its winner,
Democrat Tom Bradley. Although Bradley lost that general election,
he did defeat Yorty in 1973 to become the city's first black mayor;
he went on to serve a record four terms.
Bell had long opposed Yorty, claiming he was "temperamentally
unsuited" to govern Los Angeles and that his constant bickering
with Washington had prevented the city from getting federal funds.
Bell said Yorty's racial campaign against Bradley, along with earlier
smear tactics against other opponents, filled him with revulsion.
But Bell's support of Bradley in the nonpartisan race so irked
some conservative Republican constituents, such as fellow oilman
and Yorty backer Henry Salvatori, that Republican attorney John
LaFollette was put forth to run for Bell's congressional seat in
1970. Bell prevailed and remained in Congress.
Bell entered politics through Republican Party positions. He served
as chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Los Angeles County,
chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of California
and as a member of the Republican National Committee.
The politician was the grandson of James George Bell, who established
Bell Station ranch (now the site of the city of Bell), in the Santa
Fe Springs area in 1875, and went on to find oil. The congressman's
great-uncle, Ed Hollenbeck, had arrived in the 1850s, founded the
First National Bank, created a public transportation system and
developed eastern portions of Los Angeles County.
Alphonzo Bell Sr., the congressman's father, used initial oil profits
to develop tony Westside communities, including parts of Westwood,
Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades and Bel-Air, which lured many of
the elite of Hollywood and other wealthy residents. He also established
the Bell Petroleum Co. and helped found Occidental College, where
his son earned a degree in political science.
After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, the younger
Bell joined the family oil company and served as president from
1947 until 1959. Also a rancher and cattleman, Bell sold the oil
company in 1975.
Once divorced and twice widowed, Bell is survived by a daughter,
Fonza; eight sons, Stephen, Matthew, Robert, Anthony, Richard, Graham,
Harry and Billy; and 19 grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday at Forest Lawn Glendale.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to Childrens
Hospital Los Angeles Diabetic Research, 4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles,