Lexington developer J.W. Davis dies at 90

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 2, 2014 

J.W. Davis served in the Army in World War II and was present at the Japanese surrender.

Real-estate developer John Watts "J.W." Davis, who co-developed the Lansdowne-Merrick neighborhood and numerous other projects in Lexington and other cities, died Thursday at his home.

He was 90.

Mr. Davis spent much of his business career in a long and fruitful partnership with the late C.B. McEachin, which began when they were building houses in the Lansdowne area about 1954.

Together, they created many of Lexington's signature real-estate developments during the city's explosive growth of the 1950s and 1960s.

In addition to the Lansdowne subdivision, Mr. Davis built the Lansdowne Shoppes and the Lansdowne Club in partnership with McEachin, who died in 2003.

The partners worked together so closely that they maintained side-by-side desks for years.

Over the years, Mr. Davis also developed property in Estero, Fla., and built Holiday Inns in Frankfort; Naples, Fla.; and Richmond, Ind., and a high-rise in Chattanooga.

His last major project was the development of Rabbit Run subdivision and the Rabbit Run Apartments in the 1990s, in partnership with his son.

Mr. Davis was the son of the late John Woods and Mattie Lee Watts Davis.

His father also was a developer and played a major role in the community's growth for more than 50 years. However, the two never developed property together.

Mr. Davis often was called "J.W. Davis Jr." to differentiate him from his father, although the two had different middle names, said his widow, Mary Ann Hunter Davis.

He was a graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Commerce, and a member of the SAE fraternity. He served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II, was at the landing on Okinawa, and was present at the signing of the Japanese surrender.

After the war, he and McEachin began buying land in Lexington and Fayette County and selling it for development.

They were acquiring land along Tates Creek Road when it was a two-lane pike. According to an account in Business Lexington, they saw the need for a shopping center in that area in the 1960s, and they picked the name "Lansdowne" from a plantation in Natchez, Miss.

Essentially, they developed the entire Lansdowne-Merrick area.

Mr. Davis devoted himself mainly to his work, his widow said, but his one outside passion was boats. He eventually owned 10, all named "Rebel," she said.

He was a founder and past president of Lexington Homebuilders. He attended Walnut Hill Church.

In addition to his wife of 65 years, he is survived by three daughters, Rebecca Ann Davis, Gay Davis McLaughlin Scheller, and Robin Davis Doller; one son, John Hunter Davis; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Lexington Cemetery. Visitation will be 3 to 7 p.m. Monday at the family home.

Milward-Broadway is in charge of arrangements.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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