Donald R. Davis is founder, chairman and former president of Worldwide Facilities Inc., one of the oldest and largest independent insurance wholesalers in the western United States. Wholesale insurers underwrite specialized or hard to place insurance. Davis, 76, started Worldwide in 1970 when the Mid-Wilshire Corridor was still the heart of L.A.’s insurance business. Since then, he has seen an assortment of insurance companies and brokers close their doors and move out, even as he has retained his offices at 3530 Wilshire Blvd., now the heart of Koreatown.
Question: How long have you worked in the Wilshire Corridor?
Since 1957, when I started at Swett & Crawford, another wholesale insurer. We’ve moved Worldwide’s offices twice since we started in 1970, but I’ve really only worked within the same two-block area of Wilshire. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, literally everybody in the insurance business had a presence here. There’s very little of that left today. We’ll probably be looking to move ourselves for space reasons within the next year.
Q: What do you think caused the change?
Aside from changes in the industry and consolidation, the area has aged and has more competition. Around 1985 to 1990, Glendale, Pasadena and the Westside all had space, and downtown was offering some pretty attractive rents and had better freeway access.
Q: How else has the neighborhood changed?
This area used to be an attractive place to live, but not many people I know still live around Wilshire. Back in the ’60s, there were people who could walk to work. Now our employees drive in from all over. I lived in Hancock Park for 30 years, but now I live in Palos Verdes.
Q: What about the business environment?
The restaurants. Ambassador Hotel used to be a great place for a business lunch, but they, like the Cove and the Windsor, are all gone. There’s a lot of fast food and ethnic restaurants and you can walk to a decent restaurant. But if you’re entertaining and you want a nice lunch, you’ve got to get in your car.
Q: How has your customer base changed over the years?
We used to be very heavily into railroads, and aviation was a fairly big market for us. We used to write for Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, McDonald Douglass, and the Flying Tiger Line (cargo carrier).
Q: What about now?
Construction is a big business for us now and the financial services industry, mostly “errors and omission” insurance for people like lawyers and accountants when the lawyers attack an architect, say, for failing to provide something.
Q: So business is still good?
Fifty years ago, an architect didn’t have to carry insurance. Now they have to.