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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Julius Shulman: Visual Acoustics [video]

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Setting up a shot of Case Study House #29 (1960)

A brilliant documentary on the life and work of perhaps the greatest architectural photographer of the twentieth century, Julius Shulman.  If you’re not familiar with the name, then I’m almost certain you’re already familiar with his photographs.  They’ve been reprinted in hundreds of magazines and been the subject of countless museum exhibitions.  I didn’t know I had been seeing his work since I was a child until I saw a wonderful exhibition at the Getty Center here in Los Angeles a few years ago.  View the trailer to the film by Eric Bricker below, and view the official website here:

The Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles. Opened 1923. Architects: Schultze & Weaver

A magnificent example of early Jazz Age architecture, the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (today known as the Millenium Biltmore) was the first major commission for architects Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver, who started the firm of Schultze & Weaver in 1921.  A blend of Spanish and Italian Renaissance with an overall Beaux Arts style, it was meant as an homage to Los Angeles’ Spanish heritage.  Modified through the decades (the main lobby was moved to the back of the building to allow for easier automobile access) it has received a multi-million dollar restoration and is quite a sight to behold.  If you’re in Los Angeles, don’t miss the fascinating walking tour given by the Los Angeles Conservancy that takes place every Sunday starting at 2pm.

The monumental scale and Beaux Arts detail of the exterior facade of the entryway to the old lobby, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
The monumental scale and Beaux Arts detail of the exterior facade of the entryway to the old lobby, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
Interior view of the enormous window and moldings of the entrance to the old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
Interior view of the enormous window and moldings of the entrance to the old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
The old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)  Afternoon tea is served, as well as Lunch and Dinner when it becomes La Bistecca.
The old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009) Afternoon tea is served, as well as Lunch and Dinner when it becomes La Bistecca.
One of the two chandeliers suspended over the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
One of the two chandeliers suspended over the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
Detail of the intricate Spanish Renaissance style ceiling above the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)
Detail of the intricate Spanish Renaissance style ceiling above the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)

The Biltmore Hotel Ballrooms, Los Angeles. Opened: 1923 Interior frescos: Giovanni Battista Smeraldi

The magnificent interiors of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel are a prime example of the Renaissance style popular during the Beaux Arts period of architecture in the United States (1880-1920).  Designed by the architectural firm of Schultz & Weaver, it was associate architect Earl Heitschmidt who commissioned Giovanni Battista Smeraldi (known in the U.S. as John B. Smeraldi) to create many of the lavishly detailed interior ceilings.  Smeraldi’s work can be seen in many historic public buildings in the United States, mainly on the ceilings, and he considered the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel to be his finest work in this country.  The current hotel restaurant off the old lobby is named after him.  Below are photographs I took of his incredible work during one of the wonderful walking tours given weekly by the Los Angeles Conservancy.  I highly encourage taking one!
Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Bitlmore Hotel. (November 2009)
Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)

(Right) This is the main ballroom.  This magnificent space is the largest of the hotels ballrooms and is able to accommodate 700 people at tables.  The domed ceiling is a single canvas and the most detailed of Smeraldi’s magnificent frescos.

 

Crystal Ballroom opposite wall, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
Crystal Ballroom opposite wall, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
(Left) The balconies visible in this photograph and the one above extend from three of its walls.

 

Entryway to the Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
Entryway to the Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
(Right) Photograph of a famous socialite in her specially designed gown representing the Crystal Ballroom and it’s signature balconies (extending from the hip line of the gown).  She had this gown created for the grand opening gala in 1923.  This photograph hangs at the entry to the Crystal Ballroom.

 

Emerald Room ceiling detail, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
Emerald Room ceiling detail, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
A golden retriever face stares down at guests from one of the many murals painted by Smeraldi on the beams of the Emerald Room depicting scenes of the hunt.  Once known as the Renaissance Room, it was the hotel’s main dining room seating up to 400 guests.

Simon’s Drive-In, Los Angeles, California Architect: Wayne McAllister

Simon's Drive In 1930sAt one time Simon’s Drive-Ins dominated the Southern California drive-in restaurant craze.  The Simon brothers had operated a chain of successful dairy lunch counters in downtown Los Angeles, and in 1935 decided to capitalize on the growing car culture of Los Angeles by opening auto friendly locations in the emerging commercial centers of Wilshire Boulevard, Sunset and Ventura Boulevards.
WAYNE_MCALLISTER_BOOK
Wayne McAllister on Amazon.com

It was William Simon who decided on famed commercial architect Wayne McAllister to design their new drive-ins.  Architecturally, Simon’s Drive-Ins were a complete departure from the angular, octagonal drive-in buildings of the 1920s.  McAllister gave the drive-ins their now fondly remembered neon-lined roofs and pylons with ‘Simons’ spelled out in giant back-lit letters.  He virtually invented the Streamlined Moderne restaurant style that was to come to symbolize Los Angeles car culture in the late 1930s and throughout the 40s.

24-hour service was featured at the door-less drive-ins sporting wide canopies trimmed in metal.  The circular design of the buildings ensured that the many automobiles patronizing the establishment had ample room to maneuver, and arranged themselves at convenient angles for their signature carhop service.  Designed to be equally eye-catching at night as during the day, McAllister used both direct and reflected lighting to carefully accent the lettering and outstanding architectural elements of the buildings.

Populuxe Lives!

Populuxe by Thomas HineHow gratifying it is to see that 28 years after Thomas Hines coined the word “populuxe” it is now commonplace to find multiple listings on Google Search under it.  Upon reading his marvelous book Populuxe in 1987 immediately began using the term, I remember the blank look on my friends faces back then when I would describe an object as having been manufactured during the Populuxe period.  Happily it seems that term has since spread across the globe!  In the late eighties anything produced before 1965 was said by many to have, “that ‘Art Deco’ look.”  I shudder just remembering that label on clocks, blenders, etc.  The film “Back To The Future” and the Johnny Rockets restaurant chain were all the rage, and both were clearly patterned after a fondness for the Populuxe era: approx.1954-1964, not the Art Deco era: approx.1925-1945.  Thomas Hines writes,”The decade from 1954-1964 was one of history’s great shopping sprees, as many Americans went on a baroque bender and adorned their mass-produced houses, furniture and machines with accouterments of the space age and of the American frontier.”  If you’re a follower of this blog, you know I have a great fondness for both the Populuxe and Art Deco eras, and all the pop culture that accompanies them!

Angels Flight funicular railway, Los Angeles. Opened 1901. Construction: Col. J.W. Eddy

Angels Flight 1903
The corner of 3rd and Hill Streets, Los Angeles 1903.

Originally known as the Los Angeles Incline Railway, it was the imagination and perseverance of Colonel James Ward Eddy that led to its construction.  Opening in 1901, it connected the shopping district of downtown Los Angeles to the then upscale residential district of Bunker Hill.

Angels Flight 1950
Looking down on the intersection of 3rd and Hill Streets, Los Angeles 1950.

 

 

“The World’s Shortest Railway” changed ownership a number of times during the ensuing decades.  The grand Victorian homes which stood proudly on Bunker Hill in the teens had gradually become rundown by the 1940s.  The homes and buildings on either side of the railway in the top photograph were gradually replaced with boarding houses and apartments, as shown in the photograph to the left from 1950.

 

 

 

 

Angels Flight 1969
Dismantling Angels Flight, Los Angeles 1969.

In 1959 Angels Flight was scheduled to be demolished as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project.  Due to the tenacity of a dedicated group of supporters, Angels Flight was designated a Historic Cultural Landmark and the city dismantled it in 1969 to make way for office buildings and the Angelus Plaza senior condo complex promising to rebuild it in a few years.  It was stored away in a Gardena scrapyard.

 

Those few years turned into 27 years, to be exact.  Finally, in 1996 Angels Flight reopened in its present location near 4th and Hill Streets directly across from the Grand Central Market.  Retaining 60% of its original materials, it operated until 2001 when an accident caused it’s closure.  Construction of a new braking system and other updates were made, and after many false starts over the past few years Angels Flight will reopen once again.

Bob’s Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California. Opened 2009. Restoration Architect: Chattel Architecture, Original Architect: Paul B. Clayton 1958

Much has been written of the miraculous resurrection of architect Paul B. Clayton’s 1958 original Harvey’s, then Johnie’s, and now Chattel Architecture’s 2009 restoration Bob’s Big Boy Broiler.  One has only to look through the pages of the marvelous book Googie Redux at the laundry list of buildings that have been bulldozed into history during the past few decades, to recognize what an amazing feat has been accomplished.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Friends of Johnie’s, the Coalition to Save Harvey’s Broiler, the City of Downey, Bob’s Big Boy proprietor Jim Louder, Adriene Biondo, and the Los Angeles Conservancy, the reborn Broiler is once again serving malts for all!  For detailed accounts of the history, illegal demolition and rebirth of the Broiler, as well as plenty of wonderful photographs be sure to check out these sites:

Roadside Peek  Los Angeles Conservancy  Coalition to Save Harvey’s Broiler

I was lucky enough to be the first to dance inside the vacant restaurant during its reconstruction, and then during the first car show in the parking lot.  These photos were taken during that car show in October 2009.