May Company, Wilshire & Fairfax, Los Angeles. Opened 1940. Architects: Albert C. Martin & S.A. Marx

David May founded what was to become The May Department Stores Company in Leadville, Colorado in 1877, one year before R.H. Macy founded his famous chain. It was in 1910 that the name The May Department Stores Company, later to be known as May Co., was officially incorporated. The May Company California division was established in 1923 when David May acquired A. Hamburger & Sons Co.

May Co corner closeup 1989
May Company Wilshire, looking east down Wilshire Blvd. from S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (1989). Photograph by Mark Barclay.

This striking building at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and S. Fairfax Ave. marks the western end of the “Miracle Mile” in Los Angeles, a brand new concept in city planning for the 1920s that centered around the automobile as opposed to the pedestrian. The May Company Wilshire, as it was soon to be known, was constructed in 1940 by architects Albert C. Martin & S.A. Marx in the Streamline Moderne style that was emerging at the time.

I took these photographs when I first moved to the area in 1989. How well I remember the ‘store closing’ sale during its final months. Sadly, I never photographed the exquisite interior, with its wood-paneled elevators and its polished escalators. In my mind, I can still picture the interior as it was when I walked through the doors off Wilshire Blvd. The May Company chain dissolved in 1993 and many of its stores became Macy’s Department Stores. Happily, this building was preserved and acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is being added to and transformed into the Academy Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Happily, they’ve retained its streamlined facade for future generations to appreciate.

may-co-wilshire-fairfax-1948
May Company Wilshire, corner of Wilshire Blvd. & S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (1948) © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

 

May Co corner 1989
May Company Wilshire, corner of Wilshire Blvd. & S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (1989). Photograph by Mark Barclay.
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