Meet the Petersens: Guns, Cars, Taxidermy, and Children’s Health

They certainly were interesting people. Robert E. Petersen made his fortune as founder and Chairman of Petersen Publishing. He created Hot Rod magazine in 1948, established the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. in 1994, and maintained a keen interest in planes, antique guns, and sport shooting all his life. He passed away in 2007. When the couple’s estate was settled in 2012, after Margie passed away from a bout with breast cancer, their eponymous foundation made a non-cash donation of $79,800 in taxidermy animals. If that doesn’t say eccentric, I don’t know what does.

Along with their eccentricities and the trappings of wealth—$7 million in antique firearms was also part of their estate—the Petersens had a compassionate side. A peek at their giving history reveals big gifts to the Blind Children’s Center, St. Jude’s, and the Boys and Girls Club in amongst gifts to their automotive museum and the NRA. In 1975, the Petersens’ two sons, Bobby and Ritchie, were killed in a private plane crash en route to a skiing vacation in the Rocky Mountains, and perhaps this tragedy served to color the Petersens’ charitable giving. Much of what they have done benefits children. In 2010, the foundation gave $1.5 million to the St. John’s Health Center Foundation in Santa Monica, to establish the Margie Petersen Breast Center, so, coming from this foundation, a gift to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) to establish a new center for inpatient rehabilitation is no great surprise.

The size is a little surprising, however. In the past three years, no health-related gift from the Petersen Foundation has even come close to that mark—the $1.5 million to St. John’s was the closest contender. These days, the foundation isn’t a big operation—after Margie’s passing in 2011, much of its assets were liquidated (see: taxidermy and antique guns) and the organization made an approximately $100 million gift to the automotive museum. So we wonder what the foundation board’s plans for the future look like. Are they sunsetting their health giving? Are they sunsetting the foundation entirely? It’s really anyone’s guess.

Both the founders are deceased, and information about the foundation’s assets is spotty at best. The foundation may well be in the midst of a financial off-loading, as has been known to happen when founders pass away—and if that’s the case, and you’re a children’s hospital or health program in Southern California, write up an LOI, posthaste!—or it could be in a position to continue giving, however modestly, into the future.