The prolific career of businessman Leon “Ted” Garr will be permanently noted in South L.A., thanks to the efforts of the city’s three black council representatives.
Council President Herb Wesson, Councilmember Curren Price and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawkins united to designate the intersection of Vermont and Gage Avenues as Leon Garr Square. The official sign unveiling ceremony takes place at the site on Thursday, May 4, at 1:30 p.m.
During his 80+ years in Los Angeles, Garr has applied his incredible entrepreneurial skills to amass a wide range of businesses that employed hundreds of people. His portfolio includes a construction company, shopping centers, motels, apartment buildings, commercial buildings, senior citizen housing, childcare centers, and real estate holdings in Orange County and L.A.’s View Park district.
At the age of 76, Garr directed most of his life savings to purchase a failed savings and loan that he transformed into Founder’s National Bank (now One United Bank), the first commercial bank owned by African Americans west of the Mississippi. He demonstrated his business savvy 20 years later with the opening of Garr’s Body Shop in South L.A.
Garr, who recently celebrated his 103rd birthday, was born March 23, 1914 in Ruston, Louisiana. He migrated to Los Angeles after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Equipped with only a 3rd grade education, he went into the construction field and began to build a multi-faceted business empire that he continues to guide and advise about the day-to-day operations of what is now known as Garr Enterprises.
His story was featured in the 2012 documentary, “This Life of Mine: The Fascinating Journey of Leon T. Garr.” The movie, which was directed by Antwone Fisher, was screened at the Pan African Film Festival.
Sharing sage financial advice in the film, Garr said, “I wish that when we buy something, we’ll try to pay for it. If you buy a home, try to pay for it as soon as you can so it will be your home. Don’t borrow money on your home unless you have to. Don’t buy what you want, buy what you need until you get your home paid for. Whatever you buy, get it paid for then it’s yours. Nothing is yours until it’s paid for.”