The scions of the architectural history and preservation community gathered this week to celebrate the life of Steve McAvoy, on his birthday at his favorite restaurant, the Scottish steakhouse Tam O’Shanter. McAvoy passed away suddenly on June 18, 2023.
We had the honor of getting to know McAvoy in recent years as he graciously supported the extensive effort, led by his wife Christy McAvoy, noted preservationist and Ebell member, to create a master plan for preserving The Ebell of Los Angeles campus. We are honored that he was a Buzz reader. We thank his family, Christy and his daughter Carly for sharing this remembrance.
Stephen Douglas McAvoy was born in Los Angeles on November 2, 1945. His parents, Stephen and Mary, immigrated from Scotland to the U.S. in the 1930s, and both worked in the film industry.
Stephen the elder started his career at Disney Studios mixing pigments for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; he ultimately led the Ink & Paint Department. Mary was a cell colorist for both Disney and Hanna-Barbera studios. In their spare time, Stephen played soccer with fellow expats in the industry, and Mary appeared in films and competitions as an acclaimed Highland dancer.
Steve spent much of his youth on the Disney lot. “I took my first step at the corner of the Commissary at the original Animation Building, test drove the first Autopia cars for Walt on the back lot, and was present at the opening day of Disneyland,” he recalled.
He attended public schools in Burbank and graduated from California State University, Northridge.
A Certified Public Accountant, Steve began his career with Ernst & Young, Cyprus Mines Corporation, and Mattel, Inc.
His exceptional dedication and attention to detail led to executive positions with First Interstate Bancorp, Transamerica Consumer Finance Holding Company, and City National Bank. He retired from City National as Senior Vice President and Controller in 2005.
Steve advocated for corporate investment in community development. He helped the banks build strong relationships with organizations including the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, and Downtown Women’s Center (DWC). DWC held a special place in Steve’s heart, honoring his mother by meeting the needs of local women.
When not giving 110 percent to his employers, Steve helped many nonprofits become and/or remain fiscally and legally sound. In 1978, as president of the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, he hired Christy Johnson as part-time executive director. They grew from colleagues into friends; then came his shy request for a date. They married on July 10, 1982, bought a 1927 French cottage in Hollywood Knolls, and lived there for more than forty years.
Steve devoted countless hours to preservation organizations including Hollywood Heritage and the Los Angeles Conservancy. He also contributed to the conservation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House near Glasgow. In his retirement, Steve helped oversee the preservation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, was instrumental in the resurgence of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, and was a longtime supporter of Photo Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library.
With Steve’s childhood experiences at Disney and Christy’s passion for local history, they became avid collectors of memorabilia and artifacts associated with Hollywood (the town and the industry). In 2019, they purchased the Hollywood Photograph Archive to keep it intact and available for public education and enjoyment. Steve was awed by the work of his daughter Carly in creating the archive’s vast website.
A tireless worker filled with integrity and prone to random acts of kindness, Steve left his community better than he found it.
Those who wish to honor his life may consider a gift to the Downtown Women’s Center (downtownwomenscenter.org) and/or the Los Angeles Conservancy (laconservancy.org).