Besides the larger department stores in Southern California there were also smaller stores inside and outside Los Angeles. These stores carved out specific niches. They are an important part of Southern California retail history.
GOODMAN’S DEPARTMENT STORE – LOS ANGELES
Goodman’s was located at 7th & Hill Streets across from Bullock’s. It was founded by S. Goodman. It was also short-lived, operating from 1922 to 1923 and ending in a public dispute between the founder and the landlord. The building still stands and has been converted into loft apartments. You can still see the remains of the painted sign if you look from Broadway Street down 7th. The store featured four elevators and a food market in the basement.
One of Los Angeles’ oldest retail stores, Eastern-Columbia was founded in 1892 by Mr. Adolph Sieroty. There were two divisions: Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company. The Art Deco styled building was built in 1930 and designed by Claud Beelman. The building still stands today as a landmark and has been converted into loft apartments. I was never brought to the store in Los Angeles and it closed before I started working in downtown Los Angeles. I had visited the Columbia Outfitters store in San Francisco before it closed.
The Broadway Street store was opened in 1923. The facade was redone in 1933 in a Beaux Arts style. The first store was opened on Olivera Street in 1862. In 1921, Ralph R. Huesman purchased the store from the Desmond family and led the expansion of the retailer to several locations throughout the Southern California market. Other Desmond stores of architectural importance were built on Wilshire Blvd. and in Hollywood. The downtown Los Angeles building still stands. The first floor is for small retailers. The upper floors are still empty. Desmond’s, under new ownership, merged with Walker-Scott (San Diego) and K. Wolens (a Texas based specialty department store chain) in 1985.
MULLEN AND BLUETT
The company was founded by William Mullen and Andrew Bluett in 1889. The first store was located at the Corner of First and Spring streets. In 1910 the store was relocated to the first two floors of the Story building at Broadway and Sixth Streets. Mullen and Bluett was a high-end clothing store with a focus on menswear.
Founded by Kentucky-born minister and entrepreneur B. F. Coulter in 1878, Coulter Dry Goods Co. was one of the pioneering businesses in downtown Los Angeles. Built on the corner of Temple and Main streets, the original 900-square-foot building contained just $1,000 worth of merchandise that originally was purchased in New York and shipped west.
With a business philosophy of providing exceptional quality items at a fair price, Coulter quickly distinguished his enterprise — which eventually changed names to Coulter’s Department Store — from competitors with his keen attention to customer service. Advertisements described Coulter’s as “the nicest store in Los Angeles.”Over the years, the store was moved several times, finding larger homes on Main, Spring, Broadway and Seventh streets before it relocated for the last time to the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles.
Eventually, the L.A. business economy and consumer tastes changed and Coulter’s was purchased by The Broadway Department Store chain. The company’s final — and longest-held — location at 5600 Wilshire Blvd. was razed in the 1980s. It was a prime example of modern Art Deco design. Today the location is home to an upscale apartment complex. I did visit the store before it closed. It was not elegant, but it was clean, well merchandised, and had superior customer service…even though I could not afford to buy much.
BLACKSTONE’S DRY GOODS
Blackstone’s Dry Goods was founded in 1895 by Nathaniel Blackstone. He was the brother-in-law of J. W. Robinson, the founder of J.W. Robinson & Company/The Boston Store, and Blackstone had worked for him. The first store was located on Broadway between Third and Fourth Streets. In 1917 he moved the store to the corner of Broadway and Eighth Streets.
HARRIS AND FRANK
For more information please see I. Magnin under Department Stores of Northern California.
FEAGENS JEWELRY/BROCK & FEAGANS
George Feagans and his partner, Mr. Brock founded Brock & Feagans on Broadway Street in Los Angeles. The elegant jewelry store opened its doors in 1882. The partnership dissolved in 1903 and the store closed. George Feagans then opened a new and even more elegant store in the famous Alexandria Hotel at 502 South Spring Street. The store was the gathering place for the richest and most famous. The hotel stands vacant now. The original Brock & Feagans building also still stands on Broadway Street.
Orbach’s, a well-known retailer of closeouts and seconds operating in New York, opened a Los Angeles office to buy goods for the New York stores as well as operate stores in the greater Los Angeles market. The Los Angeles buying office opened in 1945 and the first store was opened in 1948 on the Miracle Mile part of Wilshire Boulevard on the Mezzanine plus three floors in the Prudential Insurance Building. In 1953, they opened a branch store at Fifth and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, That location did not do well as that area was starting to decline. The downtown store was closed in 1959. The Miracle Mile store was closed in 1965 and moved to the former Siebu store on Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax. The company opened other stores in Los Cerritos Center (Cerritos), Del Amo Center (Torrance), La Mirada, and Panorama City. The ownership of Orbach’s transferred from the family to the Brenninkmeyer Company (AMCENA). In 1986, when Brenninkmeyer acquired the Howland Steinbach department store business from Supermarkets General, the decision was made to close the entire Orbach’s business, including the offices and stores in California. The former Siebu store which had been converted to Orbach’s on Wilshire Boulevard now houses the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The problem for Orbach’s was that it lost relevance as off-price stores expanded into the market and the quality of apparel increased at discount retailers. It also had a strange policy in never sharing product margins at the store level. People in the stores never felt engaged with the business.
As a competitor, Orbach’s had a bigger negative impact on May Company and The Broadway than it did on Bullock’s. Its sales really only impacted basic goods.
Barker Brothers was founded by Obadiah J. Barker, Jr. The first store opened in the early 1880’s on Spring Street. Later a major store was built on Broadway Street and it operated until 1927. In 1924, a ten story store was opened at the corner of 7th Street and Figueroa. This store was the largest home furnishings store in the U.S. and was grand in style. The entrance was designed in a Moroccan style. A pipe organ on the Mezzanine floor provided music for the store. There was a huge auditorium for the customers to learn about furniture and decorating. In addition, the restaurant was operated by Mary Louise, a famous tea room operator in Los Angeles. The company was the showcase for major as well as new, upcoming furniture designers. The sales force was known as aggressive in marketing to all the new housing developments. Barker Brothers grew as the population moved to suburbia. The company opened numerous stores all through out Southern California. In 1984, the downtown store closed. In 1992, the entire chain closed. The downtown store now houses a mixture of offices and lofts.
Barker Brothers was first incorporated in California but in 1924 it incorporated in Delaware. It was later bought by Gold’s and that family continued to operate the business. They were later acquired by Gamble-Skogmo. In 1960, Gold’s/Barker Brothers was acquired by City Products, an Ohio based ice delivery company on a drive to diversify. In 1965, Household Finance Corporation bought City Products in its attempt to diversify. They later sold Barker Brothers to a Wall Street investment group in 1984. That is when the downtown Los Angeles store was closed. Unfortunately, the company had too much debt to service along with too much competition while lacking management strength. Now, Levitz, Gold Key, and other discount retailers were taking away the mid-market customers and the designers on Robertson Boulevard were capturing the up-scale customers. There was little room for Barker Bros.For a period, Barker Brothers/Gold’s owned and operated the W. & J. Sloane furniture chain. Due to stiff competition they closed the California stores and sold the stores in the East to City Stores.
I visited the downtown Los Angeles several times just to look at the facilities and the merchandise. At the time, I was still living with hand-me-down furnishings so I could not afford to shop there. I did learn home furnishings taste by looking at the designer products. I also shopped the store as a competitor. The smaller suburban stores were not really exciting as they lacked the variety and the designer fashions in the main store. The suburban stores were much more like any upper moderate home furnishing store.
The H. Jevene Company was founded by Hans Jevene in1882. It was known as the largest and best grocer in the West. The company operated retail, mail order, and home delivery services. I do not know the first location but the second location opened in 1896 at Spring and 2nd Streets. In 1907, it built its new store at 6th and Broadway Streets. The new store had the finest of grocery products on all six floors. The company reportedly closed in the late 1920’s after the founder died.
This home furnishings store was founded in 1906 on Main street in Los Angeles in the area known as the furniture district. Next door was another well-known furniture store, Dearden’s Home Furnishings (1909). Others nearby included: Heywood Bros. & Wakefield Company (circa 1899) and Hulse Bradford & Company (1901).
Tokyo’s Siebu store opened a branch in 1962 in a new and modern design at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, across the street from a highly successful May Company store. The store executives were surprised to see the poor quality of Japanese merchandise sold in the U.S. and felt there was an opportunity to expand with an offering of upscale goods. The first day, the store was jammed with 40,000 customers. The restaurant was also a success. Unfortunately, the store was not a long-term success and closed in 1964. Orbach’s took over the store in 1965. I visited the store with friends when I was in college. It was not a warm environment and I did not see anything of interest.
I do not have a postcard of the store when it was Siebu. There is a postcard of when it was Orbach’s. I suggest you look in the Orbach’s collection to see the store.
Hartfield’s was a chain of specialty retail store located in downtown shopping areas primarily in the West. The company was headquartered in downtown Los Angeles. In the late 50′s the company started Zody’s, a discount department store in Southern California. Then, the company was renamed Hartfield-Zody’s and went public in 1961. By 1960, the Hartfield’s chain consisted of over 50 specialty apparel stores (mostly in downtown shopping areas in the West) and 5 Zody’s. As downtown shopping districts declined, Hartfield’s stores closed. Eventually the company only operated Zody’s stores. By the early 80′s Zody’s was closed and the stores sold.
On the personal side, my father-in-law did the audits for Hartfield’s in the 1930′s. He often told me about the commitment the family had towards building a successful business.
I have not been able to find a postcard depicting a Hartsfield’s store.
WALKER SCOTT - SAN DIEGO
The Walker Scott Department Store was founded in downtown San Diego in 1935. The store’s original owner, Ralf M. Walker, who already owned and ran Walker’s Department Store in Los Angeles, passed away in New York six weeks before the San Diego store’s opening. A former stock boy at the Los Angeles store, George A Scott, whom Mr. Walker had sent to the New York University of Retailing (1930), opened the San Diego store with Mr. Walker’s widow, Eliza Fitzgerald Walker. Eliza Walker became president of the company while Scott held the title of vice president. Walker’s Downtown store opened on October 3, 1935, situated on 5th and Broadway. It eventually expanded to eight stories, and held San Diego County’s first escalators.
The company merged with Desmond’s (Los Angeles) in 1985 which formed Wolens-Desmonds which operated Desmonds (Los Angeles), Walker-Scott ( San Diego), and K.Wolens (Texas).
BUFFUM’S – LONG BEACH
Buffum’s was a chain of Long Beach, California based department stores founded in 1904 and for years owned and operated by the Buffum family. It grew slowly over the years to a total of 16 stores throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. (Dorothy Chandler was a member of the Buffum family.)
Over the years, the stores gained a reputation as the “Grand Dame” of department stores in the area. The stores interiors were known for large chandeliers and other upscale touches. The chain marketed itself as “Buffum’s Specialty Store,” in attempt to differentiate itself from other local chains including The Broadway, Bullock’s, Robinson’s, and the May Company.. It’s most famous advertising line “I’ve been to Buffum’s” was used in their advertising.
Like other local department stores of the era, Buffum’s was challenged by old-fashioned business models, changing consumer, tastes and the arrival of Nordstrom. The chain was bought in the 1970s by the Australia-based Adelaide Steamship Company, which looked to sell the struggling chain in the 1980s. AdSteam never found a buyer and liquidated the chain in March 1991.
The original downtown Long Beach building was replaced in the 1980′s. Unfortunately, the new store did not make much of a difference as downtown Long Beach had seriously declined. The newer store has since been demolished but downtown Long Beach has made a significant comeback and is considered one of the desirable parts of Southern California
HENSHEY’S – SANTA MONICA
The company was founded in 1925 at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 3rd Street. It was the first store in the West side of the L.A. basin. The store always appealed to the value-oriented customer. The building was damaged in the Northridge earthquake. It closed in the 1980’s. Much of the building currently houses a Toys R Us store. A new shopping center was located nearby which ended the reign of Henshey’s.
MARSTON’S - SAN DIEGO
Marston was a department store based in San Diego founded by George Marston. The store was founded in 1878, and moved several times before moving into its longtime flagship store on C Street, between Fifth and Sixth in downtown San Diego. In 1960, Marston was acquired by Broadway-Hale. The flagship store was demolished. George Marston’s success was his ability to develop strong relationships with key vendors so he had the merchandise on an exclusive basis. For example, Marston’s was the key retailer for Gustov Stickley furniture. Mr. Marston was a politician and a philanthropist. His home is now a museum in San Diego with an incredible collection of Gustov Stickley furniture. The store Marston’s downtown store has since been demolished with the building of Horton Plaza.
FEDWAY – CALIFORNIA
Federated Department Stores started a new division in the 1960’s to capture small markets. The company saw the opportunity to become the dominant player in small cities (under 100,000) by acquiring local department stores and folding them into this new chain with merchandising and operating strengths. A management team was installed at the new headquarters in California and Federated started acquiring chains such as Halliburton’s in Oklahoma City, Levy’s in Tucson (1960) and others. It quickly realized that this new division was not providing the returns of the growth divisions. Plus, the settlement with the Justice Department after the acquisition of Bullocks-Magnin curtailed Federated’s ability to acquire more department store chains. The division was closed, a smart move as the department store chains they were targeting were downtown stores. Even in small cities, the retail centers were moving outside of downtown. Individual stores were sold to Dillard’s in 1971. (Keep in mind, at this time J.C. Penney, Sears Roebuck, and Monkey Wards which all had stores in downtown markets, were developing strategies to close these downtown stores and locate them in suburban strip centers and malls.)
HARRIS – SAN BERNARDINO
The Harris Company was a retail corporation, based in San Bernardino that operated stores named Harris’. Brothers Philip, Arthur, and Herman Harris started the company with a small dry goods store in 1905, and the company eventually grew to nine large department stores, with stores in San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties.
The chain was acquired by Gottschalks in 1998. After the acquisition, some of the stores continued to operate under the name Harris Gottschalks. In January, 2009, Gottschalks filed for bankruptcy, and on March 31 announced they were liquidating all stores. All of the original Harris stores were finally closed in July, 2009.
ROUSES – RIVERSIDE
Rouses was founded by Gaylord Rouse in 1895, after first owning stores in Philadelphia, Santa Barbara, and Antioch. He opened his first store in Riverside which targeted a broad audience. Mr. Rouse died in 1923. In 1925 the store was expanded and remodeled. The store continued in operation until 1964 when the company closed in bankruptcy. Competition from other major department stores became too great. By then Harris’, The Broadway, and May Company Southern California had moved into the market.
GEORGE W. REYNOLDS DEPARTMENT STORE
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YAMATO – LOS ANGELES
CALIFORNIA FURNITURE COMPANY – LOS ANGELES
WOOD BROS – LOS ANGELES
The company operated stores in Los Angeles on Wilshire Blvd, in Pasadena, Hollywood, and in Fresno, California. These stores offered better women’s apparel. The company closed in the late 1950′s.
METROPOLITAN BARBER SHOP – LOS ANGELES
CHRISTOPHER’S CONFECTIONERY AND FOUNTAIN
REDLICK’S DEPARTMENT STORE – BAKERSFIELD
BROCK’S DEPARTMENT STORE – BAKERSFIELD
DONAVAN & SEAMANS – JEWELERS- LOS ANGELES
J. JESSOP & SONS JEWELERS – SAN DIEGO
This wonderful jeweler was later sold to Dayton Hudson Jewelers.
THE ERNSTING COMPANY – JEWELERS – SAN DIEGO
THE ELITE – CATERERS AND CONFECTIONERS – LOS ANGELES
PARMELEE COMPANY – GAS AND ELECTRIC FIXTURES – LOS ANGELES
THE GREAT WARDROBE – SANTA BARBARA
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