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.

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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.

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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).

 

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