Hall of Fame

Thomas E. Lutz

Within families, it is interesting how some scatter to the winds, even to the four corners of the globe, while others so embrace their birthplace that they dedicate their lives to making it continuously better.

Such a man is Santa Ana Community Leader Thomas E. Lutz. Born and raised in Santa Ana, Tom attended Santa Ana schools, including Santa Ana College, from which he graduated in 1965 and where he met his future wife, homecoming queen and song leader Nancy Thompson. Completing his degree at California State University Fullerton (CSUF), Tom then served in the US Army in Korea as a nuclear warhead assembler.  Returning to Santa Ana, he married Nancy and worked for several companies in Orange County before launching his own business in Santa Ana, The Lutz Company, as a general contractor.

Not only was Tom starting his own business, he also began a life-long leadership role in his beloved Santa Ana. Few people can claim to have the innovative, far-reaching effects that Tom Lutz had in his community. Tom has vision; when he saw a need or an opportunity, he worked to fulfill it. He helped to organize and then worked tirelessly for the Washington Square Neighborhood Association (WSNA). For a while, he even served as its trash man, emptying temporary trash cans on Sunday afternoons in his pickup truck until the neighborhood received a block grant to reduce litter by installing permanent cans.

This association became a prototype for others to follow, with Tom lending his time and expertise to help other neighborhoods develop their associations. Thanks to Tom’s leadership, Santa Ana boasts more than 60 associations today, forums where citizens can voice their concerns, set priorities and work to improve their neighborhoods. In addition to serving as WSNA president and chairing many committees, Tom is once again stepping up to the plate as the 2013 WSNA president.

A Santa Ana councilman for eight years, the last two serving as Mayor Pro Tem, Tom notched up many accomplishments. “Downtown Santa Ana had become like a ghost town,” Tom observes, “and newspapers were writing negative things about my city. I decided to try to put us back on the map—but in a positive way.”

Perhaps his most significant action that changed the face and climate of downtown Santa Ana was establishing the Artists Village, a seed that was planted during Tom’s theater and musical training at Santa Ana College.  “At SAC, I tried different activities, but when I became involved with the theater department, I discovered I really enjoyed building sets for productions,” he explains.  “I eventually majored in theater design at CSUF, which expanded my appreciation for the arts. It enabled me to envision the Santa Ana Artists Village and the important role it could play in the rebirth of the downtown area.”

While on the City Council, Tom was a champion for this venture, convincing his colleagues to seek the necessary funding and city assistance to convert an old, run-down auto repair shop into a refurbished building for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts (OCCA). And he did not stop there. He was a major force behind redeveloping the historic Grand Central Market Building into the renovated home for the Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center.  The Artists Village is now a hub of creativity and sparked a vibrant night life, with more than two dozen trendy restaurants, clubs, clothing stores and shops nearby.

When Tom’s tenure on the City Council concluded, he served as a planning commissioner and worked on the Historic Resources Commission. In addition, he served two years as chairman of the committee to restore the historic William Spurgeon Building Clock Tower 1996 and Chairman of the Santa Ana “A Place for Art” Committee. The Orange County High School of the Arts has boundless gratitude for Tom’s leadership in bringing this highly recognized school from Los Alamitos with an enrollment of 400 to Santa Ana in 2000, where it now boasts an enrollment of 1850 students serving 106 cities throughout Southern California. Tom’s heartfelt advocacy for the arts has transformed downtown Santa Ana, and he was justly honored with the first Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce “Creating a Place for Art” Award in 1998. In addition, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society twice awarded him its Historic Preservation Society Award.

In addition to his strong commitment to revitalizing downtown Santa Ana through neighborhood collaborations and support of the arts, Tom also understood that you cannot have growth and development in a city without public safety. The Santa Ana Police Department and Jail Facility is today one of the finest in the United States, and Tom led the effort to obtain public and community support to build it. This unique facility allows multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies to collaborate in mitigating crime and enhancing public safety.

More than $2 billion in community investment took place in projects undertaken during Tom’s tenure on the City Council, and Santa Ana earned a statewide reputation as a trendsetting, progressive city, experiencing revitalization and civic improvement. Tom’s passion for the city of his birth has transformed neighborhoods and changed lives. He is an ambassador for the city of Santa Ana, and his legacy clearly demonstrates that one person can make a difference—a huge difference. However, he affirms, “I share this award with Nancy who has been at my side--encouraging, supporting, loving-- a sounding board and extra right hand through all I've done both in the neighborhood and the city.  If it weren't for her, I don't know that I'd be here today.”