Philanthropist and financier S. Mark Taper, who built thousands of homes for soldiers returning from World War II and later donated millions to the arts, died Dec. 15 at his home in Beverly Hills of a heart attack. He was 92.
An audience gathered for the Dec. 15 rededication of the Ahmanson Theatre, next door to the Mark Taper Forum in downtown L.A., gasped as Taper’s death was announced.
“It’s ironic,” said Forum artistic director Gordon Davidson, who made the announcement. “In that moment of celebration… I had to announce that the patron from across the way had died.”
Taper donated $1.5 million to the Music Center, a complex of three performing arts venues that host major musicals, experimental plays and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
He also funded the first gallery for modern works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was a major donor to UCLA.
Taper was born in Poland in 1901 and began his business career in England with a chain of five shoe stores. In 1929, he began investing in real estate.
Taper became a successful home developer and investor in savings and loans, and in the late 1930s he decided to retire and bring his family to California. He later became a U.S. citizen.
The Tapers settled in Long Beach, Calif., with their son and two daughters, devoting some of their wealth to bringing hundreds of Catholic and Jewish children out of Nazi Germany.
During Southern California’s post-WWII housing boom, Taper began again to develop real estate, building suburban housing for returning soldiers in Long Beach and the nearby communities of Norwalk, Compton and Lakewood. In all, Taper built 35,000 homes.
After Taper’s wife, Amelia, died in 1958, he married actress Roberta Gale, 28 years his junior. They divorced within eight months. Taper lived alone in his later years, working 18 hours a day.
Barry and Louise Taper, the patron’s son and daughter-in-law, said his death was unexpected.
“Christmas Day was going to be his 93rd birthday,” Louise Taper said. “We had just been planning the party.”