Suburban Developer

Photo: Courtesy Koll Family

Picture lunch at a sunny table—maybe next to a fountain—just steps from the office and not far from home or a hotel. Such a scene is commonplace in today's office parks, but when Don Koll started developing commercial space in Orange County, Calif., the concept was new. So was the idea that a young business could rent office space in such a complex, configure it to its needs, then expand it as the company grew.

By taking a chance that a multi-tenant campus would appeal to business owners, Koll and his colleagues changed the face of Orange County and, by example, the country.

Donald M. Koll, '55, died December 6 in Los Angeles of a heart attack. He was 78.

"He believed the people that lived in Orange County would work in Orange County if the opportunity presented itself—and stop commuting to L.A.," says Rand Sperry, co-founder of Irvine-based commercial brokerage Sperry Van Ness.

Koll pursued not only big law and accounting firms to rent Class A office space in the suburban centers, but also the little guys one stage past the garage, giving a boost to many entrepreneurs.

A Santa Monica native, Koll met Dorothy Brittingham in the eighth grade and they courted at Stanford. After graduation and service as an Air Force pilot, he founded a home-building company in 1962. One of the company's early jobs was building a replica of Independence Hall for Knott's Berry Farm. The firm would go on to develop more than 85 million square feet of office, industrial, retail and entertainment space, including the Koll Center complexes in Irvine and Newport Beach.

Koll's world extended with travels and projects as far away as China. He brought Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to help turn the area into a destination resort. Last year he was one of two inaugural inductees into the Stanford Professionals in Real Estate (SPIRE) hall of fame and he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. 

"He could see what didn't exist in what existed. He saw potential and possibility," says his daughter Dori Koll, '79. "If you came to him with a good idea, he'd listen to you." He did not dwell on the negatives. "He was always interested in newness."

Koll is survived by his wife of 12 years, Kathi Robinson Koll; six children, Dori Koll, Lindy Koll, Kathy Hancock, Gay Butera, Donna Yahr and John Koll-Bravmann, '88; three stepchildren, Jennifer Keller, Kevin Smith and Brooke Shepherdson; 15 grandchildren, including Britton Caillouette, '07, and Juliane Caillouette, '08; four stepgrandchildren; and a brother, Ed. Dorothy Koll, '56, died in 2002.

Wendy Jalonen Fawthrop, ’78, is a senior copy editor at the Orange County Register.