Los Angeles in the Art Deco Age
Los Angeles leapt into the modern era on September 26, 1929. At nine o'clock that morning, the doors of Bullock's Wilshire opened to gasps of amazement. Here was the first department store in the country to be designed as an opulent art piece, filled with elegant sculptures and fine touches, its terra cotta exterior adorned with copper spandrels and lush verdigris. The topper was a 241-foot-tall tower, lit at night with violet beacons, that soared above the city and shouted that the future had arrived on Wilshire Boulevard.
Bullock's Wilshire symbolized everything that was new and exciting about Los Angeles in the Art Deco age. "Every detail, from drinking fountain to clock, ventilator grille to mirror hinge, has been creatively evoked from the future and not from the past," observed California Arts and Architecture magazine. Bullock's Wilshire represented a break out of the old downtown, where shoppers rode Pacific Electric trolleys and negotiated crowded sidewalks to jam into dark, traditional stores. There was nothing conventional about Bullock's Wilshire. It fit nicely into a quiet residential
neighborhood and appealed to the new breed of Angelenos who traveled by automobile. The main entrance was in the rear, under a porte cochere where uniformed valets welcomed patrons
and parked their cars. On the ceiling of the porte cochere, a fresco secco by Romanian artist Herman Sachs paid tribute to Mercury, the ancient god of travel, surrounded by the most modern symbols of mobility: an ocean liner, locomotive, airliner, and the famous Graf Zeppelin.
"Cathedral of Commerce"
Inside, customers enjoyed doting attention from coiffed sales associates whose ranks included future First Lady Patricia Nixon and young actresses-to-be Angela Lansbury and June Lockhart. Live mannequins modeled for shoppers, who could take in a fashion show or luncheon in the penthouse Tea Room, get their hair done, and then stroll downstairs to find their purchases already stowed in waiting cars. Los Angeles had never basked in such luxuriant service. It was the idea of John G. Bullock, a Canadian who came to Los Angeles at the age of 25 and talked his way into a job at The Broadway store downtown. He started the first Bullock's at the corner of Seventh and Broadway, then jumped at the chance to invent a new genre of upscale shopping on the emerging Wilshire Boulevard. He chose the father-and-son team of John and Donald Parkinson, architects of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the University of Southern California, to design his creation. Their ambition to erect a breathtaking Art Deco specimen, a "cathedral of commerce," was inspired by the 1925 L'Exposition
Internationale des Arts Decoratifs at Industrials Modernes in Paris.
Bullock guessed right. A shopping district noted for elegant salons and furriers grew up around Bullock's Wilshire, attracting clientele from all of Los Angeles. Carrell and Chaffin, the city's premier decorators, shared the French Provincial Clark Building at 3006 Wilshire Boulevard with the cutting-edge Stendahl Art Gallery, which hosted exhibitions by Picasso and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Wilshire Boulevard became the city's most fashion-conscious avenue, a role that only waned with the popularity of suburban shopping malls in the 1970s and '80s. After briefly being renamed I. Magnin, and suffering riot damage, the National Register of Historic Places landmark closed its doors on April 13, 1993.
From Lady Shoppers to Law Students
Southwestern Law School, located across Westmoreland Avenue to the west, purchased the building a year later and embarked on a ten-year, $29-million restoration. The school earned a National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recovering much of the original artwork and reclaiming the timeless beauty of Bullock's Wilshire. The old store now forms the heart of the law school campus.
Visible through the ground floor windows is the state-of-the-art Julian C. Dixon Courtroom and Advocacy Center,
and the 86,000 sq. ft. Leigh H. Taylor Law Library, named for the dean who oversaw the restoration and transformation of the landmark. Above the store's former front door on Wilshire, the bas relief with the inscription "To Build a Business That Will Never Know Completion" is by George Stanley, who sculpted the first Oscar's statuette for the Academy Awards.