Newport Beach home builder swung to a profit last year amid the housing recovery after emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2012.

 Last year, William Lyon Homes sold 1,360 new residences, a 43% increase from the 950 it sold the year before. Its biggest market was in Arizona, where it closed on 448 homes. It sold 324 in Southern California. Above, the company’s homes in Hawthorne. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times /February 27, 2014)

Newport Beach home builder William Lyon Homes has a history almost as interesting as its founder and namesake.

William Lyon flew combat missions in the Korean War, commanded the Air Force Reserve and was chief executive and chairman of AirCal in the 1980s before selling the regional airline to American Airlines, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Known as “the General,” Lyon was a key player in the post-war Southern California housing boom. He got his start in home building in 1954 with Luxury Homes, a company he launched to build homes for military veterans. He sold the company in 1968.

In 1972, Lyon launched William Lyon Co., a precursor to William Lyon Homes. The company has built more than 75,000 residences in California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

Like many builders, William Lyon Homes struggled after the financial markets nearly collapsed in 2008 and housing values tumbled. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 19, 2011, emerging two months later with a capital infusion and reduced debt.

The company’s stock began trading through an initial public offering last May.

The 90-year-old Lyon remains executive chairman. His son, Bill, is the company’s chief executive.

The company rode the housing wave last year. It earned $128 million in net income, compared with a loss of $12 million the year before. Revenue rose to $573 million from $373 million the previous year.

“This strength was driven by large pent-up demand, historically low mortgage rates, attractive affordability, improving job markets and low new-home inventory,” Bill Lyon said in a Feb. 14 conference call with analysts…

stuart pfeifer,la times