William Lyon, Iconic Developer Of Local Homes, Dead At 97

William Lyon, the one-time Air Force general who became a residential developer and whose eponymous company left an indelible imprint on the Southern California landscape, has died.
Born March 9, 1923, in Los Angeles, Lyon attended the University of Southern California beginning in 1941. When he joined the U.S. Army Corps as a reservist in 1943, he was already a skilled pilot, having by that time also attended the Dallas Aviation School and Air College.
Lyon continued working as as a civilian flight instructor until June 1944, at which point he was given an appointment as a flight officer. He was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group and flew aircraft to the Pacific and European theaters. In 1945 he was assigned to the North African Division of the Air Transport Command, returning to the United States in 1946. In 1947 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and participated in various reserve assignments. He was recalled to active duty in 1951 and assigned to Headquarters Air Training Command as a staff pilot. Thereafter, following his transfer to the Military Air Transport Service, he flew air evacuation and ferrying missions. In 1953 he volunteered for a tour of duty in Korea and flew 75 missions in the C-46 and C-47.
From 1954 to 1963, Lyon was assigned to various positions in the reserve and served as a flight commander and operations officer. In 1963 he was named commander of the 929th Tactical Airlift Squadron at March Air Force Base. He later served as the commander of the 943rd Tactical Airlift Group. Lyon was assigned as mobilization assistant to the commander, Sacramento Air Materiel Area at McClellan Air Force Base in June 1970.
He completed Air War College in 1971 and completed the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve senior officers orientation courses in 1972 and 1974.
In February 1972, he became mobilization assistant to the commander, Fifteenth Air Force at March Air Force Base. In March 1974 he was appointed mobilization assistant to the commander in chief, Strategic Air Command, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where he was involved in the planning of the transfer of designated KC-135 units to the reserves. In April 1975 Lyon was ordered to active duty to serve as chief of Air Force Reserve, Headquarters U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C. He remained in that assignment until 1978.
Simultaneously with his military career, Lyon was a major fixture in the development industry.
Upon returning to Southern California in 1953 after his active duty assignment in Korea, he was persuaded by his father, Al Lyon, and his brother Leon, to join them in a homebuilding venture in Orange County. Their company, Luxury Homes, was created in 1954.
Luxury Homes proved quite successful. In 1968, Luxury Homes was sold to American Standard, whereupon William Lyon was given a role in that company as vice president for real estate. In 1971, he bought out American Standard’s California-based operation, transitioning it into the William Lyon Co. Based in Newport Beach, the company built homes all over Southern California, including San Bernardino County. With Lewis Homes, William Lyon was a major provider of housing stock in Rancho Cucamonga during that city’s explosive growth in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed the company built over 100,000 single family dwelling units in California, Arizona and Nevada.
Along the way, Lyon made other investments. In 1981, he and George Argyros purchased AirCal for $61.5 million. In 1986, they sold the airline for $225 million.
Active in Republican political circles, the general, as he was called by those who knew him and those who did not, in 1999 co-founded with former Richard Nixon Aide-de-camp Larry Higby, South Coast Plaza developer Henry Segerstrom, Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren and George Argyros the New Majority political action committee.
Lyon, 97, died of what were called natural causes today, May 22 at his luxury home in Coto de Caza.

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