The Agajanians are not unlike characters out of a William Saroyan novel. James T. Agajanian fled Armenia with his wife Hamas to escape the Army draft and arrived in Los Angeles just in time for Joshua James to be born June 16, 1913. They had two other sons, Ben, who became a prominent professional football place-kicker, and Eli, and two daughters, Zerma and Jackie.
Sometime in childhood, Joshua James picked up and began to use the nickname "Jacie." On his first day in high school, his new teacher, segregating her class by sex from the roll book, sent "Jacie" to line up with the girls. As his buddies howled, an embarrassed "Jacie" switched to the initials "J.C." on the spot.
The senior Agajanian, who never had a day's schooling and could not speak a word of English when he arrived in this country, picked up the language by comparing Armenian and English bibles and went to work as a dishwasher in the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. One day he curiously asked the garbage man what he did with his collections and was told they went to feed pigs. So was born a fortune.
For five years, he saved his money and in 1919 he went into the garbage collection and hog raising business in Saugus, Calif. He started small, but the economics of the operation were sound, and the business prospered and expanded to San Pedro, Gardena and other locations. As J.C. got older, he began to help his father and gradually assumed control. Brother Eli has participated, too. A few years back, the Agajanians sold their hog farms but retained the land under them and the garbage-collection business.
Naturally, the hog and garbage business lacks a basic beauty, as has been pointed out to J.C. over the years. He laughs off insults. "It was very profitable in the long run. It's an honest business and I'm not ashamed of it."
J.C. has invested his money successfully, mainly in real estate, partly in the stock market. The Agajanians live in a 2-story, 20-room circular Colonial house they built 15 years ago and drive new cars each year.
J.C. married Faye Stepanian in 1932. His mother and her mother were raised together, their families came to this country at about the same time, and J.C. and Faye were born one house apart, a few months apart. They have had four children: Joan, 26; Cary, 22, J.C. Jr., 16, and Chris, 14.
Joan, a schoolteacher, is married to John Quinn, an attorney. Cary is a USC law student. J.C. Jr. is in high school and Chris in military school. Now that her children are growing up, the remarkable Mrs. Agajanian has been attending college in quest of a teaching degree.
J.C., who graduated from San Pedro High and attended junior college for a while, is quite proud of the upper-crust education afforded his heirs and the solid circumstances he has provided for them.
"We are able to live quite comfortably," he points out modestly. "Papa, who is 72 now, doesn't have to work, but he helps out in the office mornings before going home to Mama. The boys are responsible lads and help out at the track, selling tickets and programs and things like that."
It has been said that Agajanian "owns Gardena." "I would not go that far," Aggie grins. "We do own a lot of property in Gardena and elsewhere. If you were to ask me how much money I have, I really couldn't tell you. Much of it is tied up in investments. I would not want to say I had 4½ million if it turned out I didn't have that much."
Clearly, none of the Agajanians will be going on relief.
Aggie caught the racing bug as a boy. He hung around the races, but couldn't get a ride in a real racing car, so decided to buy his own car, a sprinter, from Hal Cole.
"I told a little white lie," Aggie has confessed. "I told our family banker that my father was out of town, but we needed $1,500. He gave it to me. I bought the car and put it in Dad's garage. And I was polishing it like mad when Dad came home."
Dad was, to put it mildly, upset. He suggested that if J.C. wished to pursue a racing career, he had only to move out of house and home and change his name. "Well, I was driving a new Chevy convertible, I had spending money, and things were pretty good at home. Frankly, I didn't want to leave. Besides, kids in those days weren't nearly as independent as they are now," he laughs.
He talked his father into letting him keep the car and even into footing some of the bills — an early example of J.C. super-salesmanship — but had to promise not to drive himself. His father was sure he'd tire of the novelty and return to the family profession full-time, but he was wrong. When J.C. got unhappy with the promoters of the time, he formed his own racing association in 1936 and within a year was himself promoting races.