Callers sometimes request to speak to Mr. Wilson. Everyone in the organization has at one time or another been questioned about the Wilson in Wilson & Hampton. So, because we have been asked, this is the story of Wilson & Hampton Painting Contractors. It will be brief and informal. None of the people are fictional. The facts may be inaccurate, but the errors are unintentional and of no great consequence. In 1899 a boy was born on a sisal plantation in the Bahamas. His father manages that Turk Island plantation. The boy is a British citizen. He enters the United States in 1914, while a first mate on a Grace Line freighter.
By 1923, that boy, Al Wilson, is a licensed painting contractor in Los Angeles, California. While painting the house of a Dr. Johnson, Al meets his future wife, Mae Belle Johnson.
Mae’s maiden name was Hampton. Her grandfather, Jefferson Davis Hampton had driven mules from Tennessee to California in the 1870’s. Mae comes from a large family. Her brothers are painters. They white wash fences and barns throughout the valley and along the coast of Central California. They move from town to town, farm to farm. They know how to make money. They don’t know how to keep it. Mae Belle Johnson becomes Mae Wilson in 1925. To point out the obvious, Dr. Johnson’s paint job cost him his wife.
Mae Wilson is a renowned cook. She works for Young’s Market. She is their caterer. Al keeps five or six men working for him painting houses and apartments. His best customer is the Bank of America. It is the depression and the “Bank of Opportunity” is accumulating a lot of property.
Al and Mae purchase a very comfortable two-story house on a tree-lined portion of
20th Street. It is just west of Gramercy Park and a few miles northwest of the Coliseum built by the City of Los Angeles for the 1932 Olympics. The house is large enough that the couple can have boarders. They have dinner parties for 10 to 12 people, often a couple of times per week. Al made a trade with the Bank of America, a paint job in exchange for the down payment on the house.
Many of Mae’s nieces and nephews, Hamptons, spend time with her and Al. That time is often extended. One of those Hamptons is named Bob. He is the son of Mae’s brother Bob, who with his other brothers moves from the next barn to the next fence to the next town, painting.
Young Bob parts ways with Aunt Mae well before high school. He is just too much for the strong willed aunt. He travels with his father and uncles, staying with family until they tell him “Bob, you gotta go, we just can’t afford to have you here.” That is the way it works until he is 14 years old. His father leaves him on the side of the road outside Modesto, California. Young Bob is on his own.
Young Bob finds work on a family owned dairy in Modesto. He works for room and board. The sons in the family, Ed and Vic treat him like a brother. He spends 2 years at Modesto High School, graduating in 1942. Modesto is the fourteenth school that Bob has attended.
He promptly joins the Navy, serves in the Pacific, down in the boiler room of the USS Portland. He attends Officer’s Candidate School. Health problems prevent him from graduating. He goes to the Pacific for a second tour.
Bob goes to Aunt Mae’s in Los Angeles when he leaves the Navy. He plans to make a living “Playing the Horses”. Harry Wilson, Uncle Al’s brother who has a pet shop near MacArthur Park, with another business in the back might have influenced his career choice. Or, it might have been Raleigh, the well-dressed gentleman from Florida, Al’s and Mae’s boarder during the race season. The horses don’t pay off as anticipated. Bob goes to work for Al. He serves an apprenticeship and becomes a journeyman painter.
Bob marries in 1947, the woman lives about 10 blocks west of Al’s and Mae’s home. He was introduced to Estelle by her Uncle Andy. Bob met Uncle Andy and some of Estelle’s brothers-in-law at a neighborhood bar, “The Place Cafe” at Washington Blvd. and Saint Andrews Place. She is one of six sisters, all but she and the youngest are already married. Bob gets along really well with his new brothers-in-law.
Bob takes a week off from Al to do a side job. He makes $800. That is more money than he would normally make in two months. He gets his Contractor’s License and goes out on his own. Bob passes out handbills in the neighborhood just west of the Coliseum where he and his wife live in a duplex. The handbills don’t get him much work. He is offered jobs by other contractors, as a foreman. Estelle advises him “You will never be happy if you give this up.”
Al Wilson asks Bob Hampton to become his partner. It’s 1947, Al is 48 years old and Bob is 22 years old. Al is a successful and accomplished small contractor. He makes a good living keeping 5 to 6 painters busy all the time. His nephew Bob is an ambitious partner. In his first year, Bob turns the receipts from his first job 37 times. Bob was soon pursuing larger jobs; housing tracts and commercial work.
Aunt Mae dies unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1952. Eight hundred people attend Mae’s funeral on a rainy day in Los Angeles. Estelle’s mother had passed away just two months earlier.
1953; Wilson & Hampton is incorporated. Bob moves his family to Orange County – Garden Grove. It’s right where the work is going to be. Al’s brother, Carl Wilson moves to Orange County. He is Bob’s Superintendent. Bob’s new home is the only way the developer can pay Wilson & Hampton and other contractors for the work they have performed. The developer is going broke.
Bob buys his Uncle Al’s interest in the corporation in 1957. They agree on $70,000. Al moves to Sun City in Hemet, California. He has a house on the Cherry Hills Golf Course. He owns his own golf cart. It’s parked next to his 1954 Cadillac Sedan Deville with the continental kit. Al paints his neighbors’ homes on the course and cruises to Hawaii and the Bahamas. He uses his British passport. Bob and Al stay in contact. Bob is part of Al’s family.
1957 is a big year for Bob. He builds a new home on a half-acre in Anaheim. The new home is just a couple of miles away from Disneyland and about the same distance from Anaheim Plaza, a new shopping mall anchored by a Broadway Department Store. Wilson & Hampton is painting the mall and The Broadway. The orange groves that nearly
surrounded the half-acre are gone by the time he finishes the new house. The house has a detached two-car garage with a 300 square foot office. They are at the end of a 150-foot long driveway. The garage and office replace a rented barn and a bedroom in Bob’s previous home, in Garden Grove.
Bob has a secretary, three estimators, a superintendent and 80 to 100 painters in the field. That driveway is bumper to bumper with pick-up trucks every evening. The painters shoot baskets with Bob’s oldest son, often until dark. Sometimes this is because they can’t get out with all those trucks lined up behind them.
Wilson & Hampton moves again in 1961. It’s a property developed by Bob, adjacent to the Santa Ana Freeway, where the freeway makes a big turn to the south just north of Disneyland. It’s in the heart of Orange County, just across the freeway from the mall and Broadway Department Store they had painted in 1957. The office has men’s and women’s toilets (they used the bathroom in Bob’s home at the last shop) and two service station pumps, one for gasoline and one for paint thinner. There is a tenant space in front along Manchester leased to Underwood Olivetti Office Machines. Wilson & Hampton has a sign atop its office visible from the Santa Ana Freeway.
It’s near this same time that Bob purchases his first orchard near Modesto, California. The first 65 acres of peaches and pears are very close to a ranch owned by Ed Pelucca, one of the sons of the family he worked for during high school. Those sons who treated him like a brother are life long friends.
Bob is moving fast. He gets a notice from the DMV. He has been cited 11 times in the past 12 months for speeding. All of the citations have been on “99”, the highway that runs North/South through the center of California. He gets a ticket every time he goes to the ranch.
By the mid 1960’s Wilson & Hampton has almost abandoned the residential market to focus on commercial work. Bob has moved the company again, about half a mile directly south. It is a half-acre parcel with an existing 1,200 square foot office. Bob builds a 7,200 square foot warehouse space with a spray booth and bake oven. This is the office salesmen and colleagues refer to when they talk about playing Gin with Bob. It has been our base of operations for more than 45 years. Adjacent properties have been acquired. It’s more than double its original size.
New ventures accompany the new facility. In 1967 Wilson & Hampton leases electro-static painting equipment from Ransburg Corporation. Wilson & Hampton pioneers on-site refinishing of metal equipment and office furniture in Southern California. By 1975 with offices in Denver and San Diego providing service to both the public and private sectors, we are one of the largest on-site refinishers in the world.
The acquisition of Orange Belt Coaters in 1976 introduces the industrial and special coatings markets to Wilson & Hampton. Serving water, petrochemical and heavy industrial facilities from the Bay area to our border with Mexico, the work increases our knowledge of specialized surface preparation and high performance coatings for severe environments. Wilson & Hampton reduces its efforts and presence in this market in 1986. However, the lessons learned and relationships built still serve our clients today.
Al Wilson passes away in 1987. He still has the Cadillac. He is still a British citizen. He rests next to his wife Mae in the Inglewood Cemetery.
Bob retires from the day-to-day operations of Wilson & Hampton in 1988. He moves to Hickman, California and devotes his time to his farming operations. He eventually acquires over 300 acres and develops orchards growing walnuts, almonds and kiwis. He hosts a “Pheasant Hunt” every year the week before Thanksgiving. The card games are still talked about.
Two of Bob’s sons Bob Jr. and Doug carry on the painting operations after Bob moves to Hickman. Bob’s other children Cliff, Hallie and Chris having all worked in the business since they were old enough to add, subtract, multiply and divide or just stock shelves are working other places.
The changing character of office furniture and our desire to serve long standing relationships requires that we expand our services to include finishing and refinishing of wood, in the early 1990’s.
Doug develops a system “New Colour” for the renovation of sisal wall covering. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints incorporates this wall covering in most of its buildings. They take advantage of our “New Colour” system on a nationwide basis.
Bob Jr. moves to Hickman in the late 1990’s. He doesn’t elaborate on his activities, even when questioned. But, we can all tell he is spending his time with nuts and kiwis.
Bob is killed in an automobile accident on “99” just south of Bakersfield in 2001 while driving home after a visit to Southern California. Hundreds turn out for Bob’s memorial. He is celebrated under the shade of walnut trees in his first orchard. Many people step up to tell stories. Many of those tell stories about playing cards with Bob. Cliff Hampton returns to Wilson & Hampton in 2005, after working for years with other contractors who focused on the industrial and special coatings market. There just weren’t enough Hamptons in the office.
Hallie Hampton Scott returns to Wilson & Hampton in 2008 after 21 years in the health insurance industry in Seattle, Washington and Fresno, California. Hallie (pronounced like Hali Berry not Haley Mills) is our Administrative Officer. Employees sometimes complain that, now there are too many Hamptons in the office, a complaint that remains unchanged from before Hallie’s return. Everybody likes Hallie.
Today, Doug and Cliff manage Wilson & Hampton. The third generation of family management. We are proud of that and proud that we have other families within our organization working with us; fathers, sons and grandsons.
Our name is on our work. We have a tradition of excellence to advance.