The Biography of Hugh Codding

One morning in 1920 when multi-millionaire Hugh Codding was three years old his brother Bruce, a student at Oakland Tech high school, needed to go to the school to pick up homework he had forgotten. Bruce asked their mother Ruby if he could borrow the family’s electric car. She consented on condition that Bruce take along little Hugh…

When Hugh Codding was in high school, his main ambition in life was to land a date with Lorraine Cleveland, according to Hugh’s sister Grace. Cleveland was queen of the Rose Parade in Santa Rosa…

When Hugh Codding was assigned to the 48th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion known as the Seabees in World War II, his ship stopped at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. One evening the men were given liberty to go ashore, and Hugh walked alone to visit a brothel, where he encountered a long line of other sailors…

In 1957, after the Russians had developed the Sputnik rocket and sent it into orbit with a mouse inside as the first live space traveler from Earth, Codding saw an opportunity for a publicity stunt. He called his sister Grace’s husband, Ben Cummins, who worked as an engineer for Shell Chemical in San Francisco…

“The year of the crash was 1956,” Codding says. It was the worst times for Codding, but it didn’t last long. When he went broke in 1956, Codding had to lay off everyone in the company except himself, Nell, one secretary and Charles Magowan, the former controller who refused to go and continued working without compensation until the company recovered…

James Stockman, a retired colonel who worked for Codding during the 1950’s, taught him the rudiments of flying on a cloth-winged Cessna 170 that Codding had obtained through a trade for a house he built in Montgomery Village. The two puttered around Sonoma County airways and occasionally flew on jaunts to Modesto…

Codding’s tug-of-war with Santa Rosa city hall resurfaced every few years. In the late 1970’s when Codding was trying to bring Mervyn’s to Coddingtown, the organizers of Santa Rosa Plaza were trying to coax Mervyn’s into the Plaza. The city declared a building moratorium that extended a mile around Coddingtown, Codding says, on the pretense that it needed to study the area…

“I still keep tight control over every department, even today,” Codding says, at age 77. “I’m a benevolent dictator. That’s the most successful way to run anything.” Almost every day at lunch, heads of departments meet with Codding to go over business matters. “They don’t challenge me because I will fire them,” he says, chuckling. “They never know when I’m kidding or not.”