Department Stores in Southern California – Bullock’s

  Bullocks Downtown Los Angeles – 1907 – Grand Opening

In 1907, John Gillespie Bullock and Percy Glen Winnet opened Bullock’s at the corner of 7th & Broadway Streets in downtown Los Angeles. The two had worked at The Broadway and convinced Arthur Letts, Sr, founder of The Broadway to back them in this new retail venture  targeting the more up-scale customer. The store grew over the years as it acquired buildings on 7th Street between Hill and Broadway; one of the buildings was a competing department store. In 1923, John Bullock and P. G. Winnet bought out Arthur Lett’s interest.

In 1929, the company opened its first branch store on Wilshire Boulevard. This luxury Art Deco designed  store targed the wealthy as they moved to the nearby Hancock Park neighborhood from the downtown’s West Adams district.  Later, the Bullock’s Wilshire store became a separate division within Bullocks. For years Bullock’s Wilshire merchandised the store in Palm Springs which only operated in the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. The Palm Springs store served the Hollywood community with winter homes in that area.

Bullock’s was known as a chain which targeted the better customer and provided unparalled customer service. The company had approximately 65 buyer/managers in each store until 1970. Up until then, the company believed that having buyers in each store for each department helped provide a localized assortment. However, it was hard for Bullock’s to buy from larger manufacturers as each store could not meet minimum quantity orders. The company did have exclusive relationships with key better vendors which helped it retain the better market position.

The third suburban store was opened in Pasadena (it was designed to be converted into a hotel if it did not succeed as a store). Later the chain continued to expand with stores in Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Ana, Torrance, Lakewood, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County, Las Vegas, Pheonix, and San Diego.

Bullock’s acquired  I.Magnin & Company in 1944 to form Bullocks-Magnin. In 1964, publicly held Bullocks-Magnin was acquired by Federated Department Stores. This was a hostile takeover. P.G. Winnet, the founder, opposed the sale. His son-in-law, Walter Candy who was President, was for the sale and gathered support of the management team.  Abe Fortes, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, was the attorney representing Federated. (Note: Bullock’s in Northern California was a separate division of Federated Department Stores.) This acquisition affected both Bullock’s and Federated for many years.  First,  many of the management team were protected for supporting Mr. Candy and the Federated acquisition so it was agreed that directional and management changes would not be made for five years. That is one of the key reasons Bullock’s did not convert to central merchandising until 1970. P.G. Winnet mostly continued working out of the Bullock’s-I Magnin offices but did visit stores and was known for pinning candy on sales people who he recognized as outstanding. Secondly, Federated was restricted from further growth through acquisition. The Justice Department was concerned that Federated was gaining too much share of the department store sector which at the time was the largest individual segment in the retail industry.

In 1988, Bullock’s was sold to the R.H.Macy Company as Federated was owned by Campeau and needed cash. As Macy’s-Atlanta took over merchandising,   Bullock’s lost its better positioning. As I understand it, under Macy’s store gross margin production shrank dramatically. In 1995, Bullock’s name was formally changed to Macy’s. Now, all the Bullock’s sites are known as Macy*s or Bloomingdales since the R.H. Macy Company was acquired by Federated Department Stores.

Bullocks was known for:

  • Merchandise assortments which trended towards better.
  • Higher quality salespeople who were focused on customer service.
  • Strong fashion presentation with upgraded and well-maintained stores.
  • Special events.

What happened???       When Federated Department Stores acquired Bullock’s it was a leader in Southern California but was marginally profitable. As management changes were made the company became highly profitable and in a dominant market position because the company secured top merchandising talent, invested in systems, and had the capital from Federated Department Stores to upgrade facilities and to expand into new markets. The downtown store continued to slide as the market demographics changed, the Southern California transportation system collapsed, and as customers shopped more at shopping malls. Bullock’s flourished until Nordstrom’s entered the Southern California market. At that time, Bullock’s began losing some of its fashion edge as markdown programs were reduced with the intent of increasing profitability but in reality allowed fashion to become stale in comparison to Nordstrom’s. Bullock’s remained dominant but should never have allowed Nordstrom’s to gain a foothold in Southern California. (Note: Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s (Federated Department Stores) started with Bullock’s as a trainee. Keep in mind, the Bullock’s motto was….” to build a business which shall know no end”.

Today, the former downtown Bullock’s store building is divided between a St Vincents Jewelry Mart, a parking lot, and small retail stores. The Bullock’s Wilshire store now houses the Southwestern Law School. The Bullock’s Wilshire store is kept in its original Art Deco splendor and serves as a reminder of department store retailing in the grander days.

I started my retail career with Bullock’s. Although I grew up in Modesto, California, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, I knew Bullock’s especially well. My mother was from Los Angeles. My grandmother used to knit infant clothing for Bullock’s downtown. My godmother, Ms. Paquita Machris, used to take me twice a year to Bullock’s Wilshire to pick out clothing. Her personal sales person, Ms. Dineen, met us at the MotorCourt and took us through the store followed by a lunch in the tea room where I enjoyed my first taste of Babas au Rhum. Years later,  I always made sure Ms. Dineen was well taken care of as she had the largest sales book in the entire Bullock’s chain. I joined Bullock’s when I taught Statistics at U.S.C. I then became a part of the Personnel department in the corporate offices. I remained with Bullock’s until 1978 when I was recruited to Mervyn’s, a new publicly held company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My collection of Bullock’s postards are shown below. If anyone has memories of Bullock’s I hope you will feel free to memorialize your memories in the Comments Section below. I know I have many friends and co-workers who are anxious to do so. You must receive my permission to copy or reprint any of these postcards.

Bullock’s Downtown

Bullock’s Downtown 1920′s

July 4, 1921

DownTown LA 1912

Bullock’s Downtown 1930′s (note outdoor dining – before smog)

Bullock’s Downtown – 1930′s

First Floor 1914 – Later became Cosmetics floor

 

Gown Room – Third Floor – Pre 1920

 

Children’s Departments – Fourth Floor – Pre-1920

Millinery Room

The Tea Room…..

Tea Room – 1920′s

The Lobby – Tea Room

The Foyer – Tea Room – 1920′s

The Foyer – Tea Room – 1910

Tea Room – The Grey Room – 1920′s

Tea Room – 1920′s

Tea Room – 1930′s

Tea Room Kitchen – 1930′s

California Poem Sent to Bullock’s Downtown Customers – 1924

Bullock’s Wilshire – Opened 1929

Bullock’s Wilshire

Bullock’s Wilshire – Fine Pottery and Glassware

Bullock’s Wilshire – Fine Jewelry Gorham Sterling & Precious Stones

Bullock’s Pasadena

Bullock’s Pasadena – Designed to be a hotel if it did not work as a retail store.

Fashion Postcards Sent to Bullock’s Pasadena Customers

Bullock’s Santa Ana

Bullock’s Santa Ana – Company developed mall- Sister Company I Magnin is co-anchor

Bullock’s Downtown Easter Placecard – Shirley Temple – 1928

This placecard was provided to me by someone whose Great Aunt worked at Bullock’s and kept this placecard. She had Shirley Temple, Ma Kittle, and Bob Hope as customers. I have not verified the signature. Bullock’s, Bullock’s Wilshire, and Bullock’s Palm Spring served many of the Hollywood Stars!

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23 Responses to “Department Stores in Southern California – Bullock’s”

  1. jplummer says:

    If you were a customer or a team member, I encourage you to let us know about your experiences. We should all try to memorialize what Bullock’s meant to us.

    John Plummer

  2. Randy says:

    What a great way to start a facsinating new blog! One note of correction, it was actually 1988 when Macy’s first bought Bullock’s and I. Magnin.

  3. jplummer says:

    Thanks for pointing out the typo. I have since corrected the date.
    I hope you like the blog as it continues to cover other stores. My next blog will cover Broadway. I will continue this until we cover the stores in all states and Canada. John

  4. Bobbye Serna says:

    A twitter follower has informed me of this site, and I have to say I liked it. I’m going to tell to my about 7000 fans, thank you very much!

  5. Skin Care says:

    Nice read. Good luck with your project

  6. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  7. Thanks… I bookmarked your blog. Will check back often.

  8. BILL says:

    I REMEMBERTHE BULLOCKS DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES FROM THE EARLY 60′S AND IF NOT MISTAKEN I REMEMBER DOWN IN THE BASEMENT THEY HAD SOME CHILDREN RIDES. ONE IN PARTICULAIR WAS A SMALL BOAT RIDE WHICH WENT IN A CIRCULAIR PATH IN REAL WATER ABOUT 3-4′ DEEP (KIND OF LIKE A TRACK). THERE WERE A FEW OTHER RIDES. I AM IN MY 50′S SO MY MEMORY MIGHT BE FAILING ME, BUT I’M CERTAIN IT WAS IN THE BULLOCKS BASEMENT, NOT BROADWAY, MAYCO, NOR ROBINSONS AND I’M CERTAIN IT WAS DOWNTOWN. DOES ANYONE ELSE RECALL THIS?

  9. jplummer says:

    Bill:
    I don’t remember rides in the basement. When I was young my family obviously avoided it if they were in the basement. When I later worked at Bullocks, we had a soup bar, a barber shop, and lower priced merchandise. I know we also had a shooting range in the lower basement but it has long ago been closed.
    I do hope someone else can answer Bill’s question.
    John

  10. fascinator says:

    I like them too! -hatgirl

  11. Continually like your content pieces. Carry on your truly excellent work as usual, I will be returning for much more!

  12. Trish Devine says:

    Many thanks for your blog. I just bought a vintage 1960s coat on Ebay, with the label Bullocks San Fernando Valley, and was interested to find out more about the company. It looks like a quality item, and clearly the company was a quality company in its heyday. I am British but live in France, and my coat is coming from Palm Springs, so perhaps that is where the stock from the San Fernando store ended up. Trish :)

  13. Linda Liebel says:

    I had a wonderful career at Bullocks from 1970 to ’79, beginning in the Pasadena bridal salon when I was 19 and ending as a central buyer in the downtown store. I would be happy to give more details if there is interest. It was a fine store.

  14. patrice c says:

    I was just found a coat in my mothers closet with a bullock’s tag. (she lives in modesto as well) and she is looking to sell it. so you think there is a market for it?

  15. jplummer says:

    What a coincidence. Hope she likes Modesto.
    The coat will not be of any greater value just because it is from Bullock’s. It does mean that it is of better quality. And, the fashion for the day was also better.

  16. Charles Sheen says:

    great blog,
    my grandmother worked for the candys/bullocks wilshire for many years and became close friends with them,she became so close that they left her alot of thier personal items,ive been trying to get in contact with someone from the family but its very hard,any help will be great!

    I do remember going with her once to the wilshire store,they knew her by name and we were rushed to the tearoom,thats the only thing that i remember.

    charlie

  17. jplummer says:

    I wish I could help you locate family members. Unfortunately, I only saw Walter Candy when he came into the Wilshire store. He was so unhappy with Bullock’s management because they, including his son-in-law, sided with Federated Department Stores on the subject of the acquisition. So, he stayed in the Bullock’s-Magnin offices a couple of blocks away. John

  18. Kathy Orris says:

    As my high school’s 1969 rep on the Bullock’s Teen Council, I did some Tea Room modeling at Bullock’s La Habra, which led to a part-time job in the Candy and Gourmet Dept. So much fun…retail was still a glamour job! The company had just stopped using its own delivery trucks, and around 1970 began opening on Sunday, but only from noon-5 pm.

    During my senior year I began working full-time after school and evenings in Fashion Accessories, and by 1973 was manager in Handbags. I took some photos of the La Habra store being demolished in 1988 or so. While at the demo site, I managed to grab a big square of the decorative terra cotta tile from outside the north entrance, which was by my department. I still have that tile!

  19. Sue Childs says:

    I fondly remember the soup and the deep dish apple pie with vanilla custard sauce. I still have the recipe for the custard sauce that was published in the LA Times. My friend and I would take the bus downtown, wearing our gloves and sometimes even hats. This would have been in the early 60′s.

  20. Kathy Orris says:

    I just had to add why Bullock’s stopped using its own delivery trucks with the store logo. Apparently, too many housewives were ordering items from the newspaper ads and having them delivered to their homes–just to show off for the neighbors. Later they would come to the store and return most of it!

  21. Ruth Chatfield says:

    I have 3 boxes of 24 kt gold plated name card holders in the shape of seals the type from the ocean) and one of the boxes has the original Bullock’s San Fernando Valley sticker receipt in it. I wish there was a site I could find to
    tell me how much they are worth today. I can’t find anything on the internet so far. Any suggestions?

  22. jplummer says:

    I would doubt that there would be much value as there are not many Bullock’s collectors. I would try selling one on Ebay and check the reaction. That would give you a market value. John

  23. Laurie says:

    A fascinating account of the history!

    Being a knitter, I love the comment that someone provided handknit items to the Bullocks baby Dept. as well as all the other little tidbits.

    I had my very first ever haircut at the Bullocks store in Westwood. I was about 5 years old, and I think I remember how new, pretty and shiny the store was, then. It was great for us because we lived in WLA. The hair salon or barber shop – whatever they called it was at the store’s entrance in the parking garage –considered the basement, I suppose. I still have the 2 black & white Polaroid “before and after” photos my mother took of me in the barber chair, there, so I will remember it forever!

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