The papers of Alphonzo Bell, Jr. (1914-2004), United States Congressman who represented the 27th and 28th Congressional Districts (the communities of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, and West Los Angeles) document his political career from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Alphonzo Edward Bell, Jr., son of Alphonzo Edward Bell, Sr. and Minnewa Shoemaker, was born on September 19, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. He was born into a pioneering California family, whose ranching and real estate interests in Los Angeles and San Diego counties date back to the late 1800s. Bell's grandfather, James George Bell, was a cattle rancher who developed the present-day communities of Bell and Bell Gardens and was instrumental in the founding of Occidental College. Bell’s father, Alphonzo Bell, Sr., was an oil magnate who invested his profits in the development of Santa Fe Springs and several upscale communities in Los Angeles' Westside, including Bel Air, parts of Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Pacific Palisades. Bell Jr. grew up on his father's cattle ranch, which was located near the present day community of Bel Air.
In 1938, Bell graduated from Occidental College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. After college, he joined the United States Air Force and served as a Lieutenant Colonel from 1942 to 1944. Following his service, Bell became an active businessman in Los Angeles and was a leader in both civic and charitable activities for many years. He joined his family’s oil business, the Bell Petroleum Company, and became its president after his father passed away. When Bell stepped into this leadership role he decided to concentrate the company's efforts on petroleum and phase out the land development business. Determined to expand the business, extensive exploration was carried out in California, Texas, and New Mexico. Ultimately, Bell tripled the value of the company with oil strikes throughout the west. He eventually sold the business in 1974.
Bell had been interested in politics for many years, having been active in statewide Republican Party affairs since his discharge from the military. His foray into politics began in the late 1940s, when he helped found the Downtown Young Republicans Club in Los Angeles. However, it wasn't until the late 1950's, when the family business stabilized, that he decided to take a more proactive role in community leadership. Between 1956 and 1958, Bell served as Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of California, and between 1958 and 1960, he served on the Republican Central Committee of Los Angeles.
In 1960, Bell ran for a seat in the House of Representatives and won. He served as a representative of California's 27th and 28th Districts until 1971. Bell was a political moderate and was widely popular among his constituents, many of whom were registered Democrats. In 1964, he won reelection with the largest total vote and the largest margin of victory of any Republican member of the House of Representatives in the United States. In 1966, Bell’s total vote and victory margin exceeded that of any House member in the nation from either political party. While in Congress, Bell was a member of the House Science and Technology Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. He also served on the following subcommittees: Science Research and Development, the General Subcommittee on Education, the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee, the Subcommittee on International Cooperation in Science and Space, and the Subcommittee on Equal Opportunities.
Despite his family's name recognition and his popularity, Bell was unable to win a higher seat in office. In 1969, Bell ran for Mayor of Los Angeles but lost to incumbent Sam Yorty. However, in the following election, Yorty was defeated by Tom Bradley, a Democratic candidate that Bell actively supported and campaigned for despite the ill feelings of his fellow Republican Party towards his support of Bradley. Again, Bell ran for a higher position, this time for a Senate seat in 1976 but lost the Republican primary to S.I. Hayakawa. Hayakawa went on to unseat Democrat John V. Tunney. Since Bell decided to run in the Senate primary he did not seek reelection to the House in 1976.
Bell is credited with being instrumental in the passage of several groundbreaking pieces of legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Policy Act, the Older Americans Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Emergency School Assistance Act, the Higher Education Act Amendments, the Housing and Urban Development Act, the Family Assistance Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act Amendments, the Coal Mine Safety Act Amendments, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments, the Emergency Employment Act, the Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the Solar Heating and Cooling Demonstration Act, and the Fire Prevention and Control Act.
Bell died from pneumonia on April 25, 2004.
The Alphonzo Bell Jr. papers includes correspondence, administrative records, regulations and legislation, campaign materials, budget reports, commission and agency agendas, speeches, newspaper clippings, articles, and photographs from Alphonzo Bell's political career. The material is primarily print, originals, and photocopies.
Guide to Research Collections of Former Members of the United States House of Representatives, 1789-1987--a printed source for locating Congressional papers.
U.S. House of Representatives--official website containing information about the House of Representatives and its activities.