Milliron's Department Store, 1949 - Mod-ular.

This picture was left on my desk this morning by the Images and Scanning Them team. Good work, people. This department store is a frikkin' masterpiece. Just look at those curves.

This picture was found in a 1949 issue of Fortune Magazine, and the caption reads as follows...

New way to shop in Los Angeles. Customers of Milliron's new store park cars on roof, ride escalator to sales floor. Building cost: $14 per square foot (vs. $25 for conventional design). Sales: two and a half times expectations.

So this building was not only a modernist work of art, but it was clever, efficient, successful AND about half the cost of conventional buildings of the era? Well, if it were still there, I'd be interested to see if the structure had stood up to years of use... what's that? It may still be there? RESEARCH AND GOOGLING TEAM, ASSEMBLE! Pksshoww!

Milliron's grand opening, 1949.

Corner shot, featuring the windows of the Garden rooftop restaurant. In Street View, you can see that these doors
are now cleverly bricked in.

Milliron's central escalator, leading to the restaurant and rooftop parking area.

Built in 1949 by Milliron's, the building is located at 8379 South Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles, just north of LAX. It remained a Milliron's for few years, until being bought out by Broadway stores, and the Broadway-Westchester operated at this location for decades. At some point it became a Mervyn's department store, until closing in 2008, at which point it was put into use as a Kohl's store. So, there's some testament to the solidity of the cheapo construction. But was it still sturdy enough to park cars on the roof? Probably not. The Google Street View images show the rooftop ramp archway as being artfully blocked in by a wall, whose design only makes the feeblest attempt to blend in with the rest of the building. The trail of smeary rust color implies that this might be where the garbage exits the building! Exciting!

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The building was built to impress with cleverness, luxury and comfort. Now it's clearly intended to maximize profits. Mission accomplished. What a bummer. I'm going to scroll up and imagine the lead  picture being used for a jazz album cover.

Click for big.


Richard Mahler said...

I am always struck by the contrast between contemporary architectural design and automotive design in the 40s - 50s: long, slim lines and curves contrasting with columnar verticals in buildings, but cars that are bulbous, heavy, dripping in massive chromed castings and looking more like upturned bathtubs than the stylish lines of the vintage era a decade earlier.

Not only has the original rooftop parking deck been blocked, the down ramp from it has been demolished. The flat concrete roofs of the period - even ones not built to hold cars - were prone to leaks and deterioration. The later parking solution was to put parking on multiple levels beneath a building where geologically possible, but now we seem intent on paving every acre within eyesight - land is cheaper than construction and maintenance.

In the grand opening pic, the sky sure looks like there is a fire down the street.

Anonymous said...

My Dad worked at Milliron's around 1951-52. He was a receiving clerk. He said there was also a restaurant on top of the building.

Hushpuppy212 said...

Look at how well-dressed the people were in the grand opening photo. Men in suits, women wearing dresses and hats. And Milliron's was a middle-class store, not fancy like Bullock's or Robinson's. Back then people wouldn't dream of going out in public improperly dressed. Contrast that to today, when even Neiman-Marcus shoppers wear torn jeans and t-shirts.

Anonymous said...

I was with Mervyn's from 1995 to 2008, and was the Store Planner responsible for the substantial remodel that revised the rear entrance to the building and led to the demo of the West ramp, in 2005, IIRC.

The building is/was even more fascinating than this brief piece hints. The rooftop lot not only had the small pavilion that acted as entry and escalator terminus, but on the East edge had a separate entrance to the restaurant/bar (yes, bar) as well as a salon and a small auditorium for fashion shows, complete with its own green room for the models to prep.

Sadly, by the time Mervyn's took over the property from the Broadway, these features, as well as the rooftop parking, were long out of use for their intended purpose, and had become little more than storage space for visual pieces, such as Christmas decorations, etc.

The parking ramps no longer in use, a rear entrance to the store had been created directly under the point at which they crossed, resulting in a sort of tunnel from parking lot to sales floor. Not pleasant. Part of the remodel process was focused on eliminating the tunnel effect and capturing some of the space for additional sales floor, as the store was one of the smaller ones we operated.

I will say that re-opening the rooftop parking was strenuously researched, due to the landlord desiring more seasonal parking capacity. After thorough review by our engineers, we found that the deck was more than capable of withstanding the load to modern standards, but also required no seismic retrofit. The rub was, of course, cost, coupled with a shortage of usable sales floor area. Not only were the escalators gone, and their footprint now housing the jewelry boat (cases in an oval configuration), but the entire HVAC system had been (ages before) relocated to the roof. In a remodel that cost around $3 million, restoring that parking would have added another million-plus. Sad, but reality.

Fell in love with the building the first time I saw it, and remain fascinated by it to this day. Sad to have lost so many of the original concept's exquisite luxuries, but very pleased that it endures in its core role 65 years later.

Anonymous said...

Other notes from my Mervyn's days/project research: the transformer for the block is actually located in the building on the West side, rather than on open city property. It's got its own little entrance that leads to a basement room (one of those dark, scary and wonderful spaces) filled with entirely intimidating high voltage and very high amperage equipment.

The building is one of the earliest suburban department stores in the country, Westchester being very much a suburb in 1949. Macy's, for whom I worked prior to Mervyn's, has what is arguably the first true suburban department store and that was the Pasadena Bullock's. I mention it because the two buildings have some remarkable similarities in style and luxuries. Ultra Moderne and multi-functional, the story is that the Bullock's building, being on the cutting edge of post-war expansionism, was considered such a risk that it was designed to be easily converted to a hotel should the department store experiment failed. The sales floor was very compartmented, and the surrounding stockrooms and receiving areas comprised of many small spaces.

No fail! Result is that gems like Milliron's were fast-tracked using (obviously) the best and the brightest.

Anonymous said...

We are the reason the Broadway rooftop parking was eventually eliminated.

For some unspecified blot of bad karma, the Broadway, 50 years ago, inherited us, a small pack of aimless 1965 pre-hippies, who claimed as our own the Broadway roof and front steps as a hang out. If you were a self-respecting Westchester citizen from the mid 60s, you probably saw us sitting on the steps and condemned us as a bunch of worthless bums.

In time, the Broadway did all it could to discourage us by installing a gate that prevented us from parking on the roof and then hanging out below on the steps. I am reminded of my own efforts to rid my eves of unwanted pigeons.

Eddie, one of the older and more advanced regulars, had bought a 1951 Dodge from Steve for, versions differ, I believe, 25 cents. The car had the unusual mechanical problem of the steering jamming in a full turn: you could turn the wheel until it “clunked” into position, thereafter, it remained in a full turn. On Sunday afternoons when the Broadway was closed, Eddie, the usual suspect for looking old enough to buy beer, would arrive on the roof with lots of 6-packs and a Dodge full of idiots, and do the steering trick.
(If you are under 55YO, you probably do not understand that stores closed on Sundays.)

He would turn the wheel until it preformed it's magical “clunk”, then open the choke a little to keep the speed up. Now we would be running in an endless circle. Once we were settled into stable orbit, we climbed out the windows onto the roof of the car to drink the beer. Going round and round sitting on the roof of a driverless car while we drank beer was just zany enough to keep our 16 YO interest.

The last time we did this, a traffic cop on a three wheeler found us up there. He got off his bike and ran next to the car to try to get the driver to pull over, but alas, the driver was on the roof of the car drinking beer. Eddie climbed down into the car and pulled over. The cop did not know what to do, so he told us to pour out the beer and go home.
(If you are under 55YO, that's how things used to be settled.)

Just so the gentle reader knows, Eddie became world famous. You have seen lots of his work. So did Steve, many of you own his products. They made heaps of money and created entire industries. I had a successful career in Aerospace. All three of us, each a High School kick-out, have US Patents. The other guys I kept up with did well financially and were productive members of society.

If the kind reader will allow a philosophical comment, I see now that half of the aimless bums sitting on the Broadway steps 50 years ago were creative geniuses who did not have a career path to success provided by the very affluent 60's aerospace community. That is why we were aimless.

I think about this when I see kids hanging out on street corners. Who are they?? Who among them is a creative genius who does not fit in with the mainstream path? How can I reach them?

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