From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 6
By Jay Beeler
There aren’t many people that I admired more than Don Temple, a local entrepreneur who pioneered the self-storage business nationwide and the first in the LA basin. Don died last Friday morning in his sleep at a local hospital. He was being treated for a heart attack suffered in late January.
Temple was born August 19, 1927 in Olatha, Kansas, and first arrived in Southern California as a member of the Merchant Marines during World War II. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven” is how he would describe his first visit to Long Beach.
He opened his first self-storage facility with 200 units at 3750 E. Spring St. in 1969, next to a recreational vehicle storage facility started a year earlier. The number of facilities he was involved with grew to nine over the years, including a stake in an indoor parking facility near LAX, Auto Airporter, which was later sold by Temple to one of his three partners in that enterprise.
Temple got the idea for self-storage units from a businessman in Tempe, Arizona, who rented 50 garages for storage purposes to the “snow birds” who came south during the winter months from the north.
Today there are 46,000 such self-storage facilities operated by about 30,000 owners (mostly mom and pop) in the United States. The industry had $22 billion in 2011 annual sales.
Without the benefit of a college degree, Don went on to make millions from his storage operations and investments. He was well-known for his philanthropic activities, including the creation of the Don and Ruth Temple Family Cancer Center near Community Hospital. Don’s first wife, Ruth, died in 1991 of cancer and he has been married to his second wife, Marlene, for the past 15 years, living in the Lakewood Village area of Long Beach.
The marriage of Don and Ruth Temple produced two daughters – Penny and Becky.
In July 1992 Temple was one of 22 pilots participating in a 12-plane Around-the-World Air Rally in his twin-engine Cessna 421C – one of 32 planes he owned and flew over the years with an instrument rating. The plane was specially outfitted with extra fuel storage tanks in the cabin area to extend its normal flying distance range and had the words “The Ultimate Trip” painted on its fuselage. The average travel speed was 200 mph. Temple – whose birthday was the same as aviation pioneer Orville Wright’s – used the trip as a fundraiser for Community Hospital.
In Russia he was very impressed with a teenage, female interpreter who spoke perfect English named Natasha Khrushova. Temple sponsored her to come to the United States and attend college with the help of former Congressman Steve Horn. She went on to obtain a masters degree, currently living and working in the San Diego area.
Don would often tear up telling the story about that experience and his “adopted granddaughter” Natasha. My PR and advertising firm, Beeler & Associates, publicized the air rally event and the marketing of Auto Airporter to Southern California travelers.
When Community Hospital closed in 2000 and reopened nine months later, Temple became involved in raising money to make the reopening happen and served on its board of directors.
The Grand Event Center on Willow St. and a strip of stores, on the southwest corner of Spring. St. and Palo Verde Ave. were two local properties owned by Temple.
Whenever he was asked how many people worked for him, Don would laughingly say, “About half of them.” When asked about retiring, Don would say, “I can’t. Marlene still has a credit card.”
Temple was inducted into National Self Storage Association’s “Wall of Fame” in September 2009.
His granddaughter, Sumer Temple, has been involved in managing the three existing self-storage operations in recent years. They include the original Don Temple U-Store & Lock at 3750 E. Spring St., Long Beach U-Store & Lock at 3490 E. Spring St. and Lakewood U-Store & Lock at 2100 E. Market St.
The Rotary Club of Long Beach and the Executives Association of Long Beach were two organizations that Temple remained active in for many decades. He was a past president of EALB.
The family suggests, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made in Don’s name to Steel Magnolias, Musical Theatre West, Aquarium of the Pacific, Rancho Los Alamitos, the Long Beach Rotary Foundation or the Temple Family Cancer Center.
A celebration of his life is planned for April 6, 2-4 p.m. at The Grand.