James and Paul Van Doren left their native Massachusetts in 1964 to run a Garden Grove factory. A year later, they formed their own Van Doren Rubber Co. and in 1966 opened their first deck shoe store in Anaheim. They changed the company name to what skateboarders in the '70s called their sticky-soled footwear–Vans–and the rest is ollie history.
James Van Doren died at his Fullerton home Oct. 12 after a long illness. He was 72.
Van Doren, who made the molds for the first shoes in his garage, ran Vans from 1976 to 1984. His reign included the first wave of the brand really taken off, after a checkerboard pair was seen on the feet of Sean Penn's surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Foreign rip-offs soon flooded the market, Vans sales waned by the mid-'80s and, as part of bankruptcy proceedings, James handed over the company's reins to his brother Paul, who had to come out of semi-retirement to run Vans. The family eventually lost control in one of the many sales of the company that followed. James Van Doren spent the rest of his career working as a business consultant.
One thing that can be said about the Van Dorens is they kept the company in Orange County. Years ago, after they lost the company, the last manufacturing plant here was moved to Mexico. At least we still have Vans stores in local malls.
Van Doren is survived by his wife of 15 years, Char; his sons from a
previous marriage, James, Mark and Eric; his brothers Paul and Robert;
his sister Bernice; and five grandchildren. A memorial mass for him is being held this morning in Fullerton.