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History Lesson: The Short Life of Goodman's Department Store

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, September 01, 2006, at 03:15PM
Great Western Plaza Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Walking west on 7th street there's a faded sign that's always fascinated me. I've been intending to write about it for months now; I even took a photo in January to go along with that. Somehow, though, I never wrote that post. Until now, I guess.

Today the building at the corner of 7th and Hill is the Great Western Jewelry Plaza. Sort of wrapped around it is a brick structure that hits both Hill and 7th. If you look closely at the western side of the building you can make out a bit of text and a hand pointing people inside. For picking out the text the view is actually better from Broadway than it is from closer in. In my passings, though, I had been able to make out that it advertised the "??? Market in the Basement of Goodman's Department Store." Broadway, Robinson's, May... I've heard of all those. But Goodman's?

Turns out that if you blinked too long around the turn of 1923, you might well have missed it.

Preparation

The April 22nd, 1922, LA Times talks of a lease being done for a building being constructed on the southeast corner of 7th and Hill. A Mr. S. Goodman is listed as the lessee, with the Duns Williams Company owning the building.

The structure, now under way, will be six stories and basement, of class A construction throughout. The new department store will be known as the Bon Marche. A feature of the building will be an attractive arcade, running to the main building from Seventh street. This arcade will contain more than 600 feet of display windows.

The basement will be occupied by a public market, which will have a stairway entrance from the sidewalk from both the Hill and the Seventh-street frontages of the building. The basement will also be served by five elevators, which are to be installed in the department store.

Structure cost was to be $750,000. The land had been purchased for approximately $1,000,000.

The Department Store Opens

S. Goodman did open his department store that year, but it wasn't called "Bon Marche" (in fairness I'm not 100% I have that correct. It's an old article). It was the "Goodman Department Store" that opened on November 18th, 1922. Mr. Goodman was quite effusive in his opening speech.

"Having visited every city of importance the world over," said S. Goodman, head of the new Goodman Department Store, "I decided that America is the country with the greatest future; the Pacific Coast has the broadest business scope; Los Angeles the city whose outlook is brightest and that the corner of Seventh and Hill streets is the best store site in this wonderful metropolis. Therefore, to carry out my ideals of business, ideals cherished since my boyhood days in England, I have taken up this site and here I hope to put in effect those ideals as to business integrity, progress and breadth of business scope."

The six department store floors were open that first day, but the market in the basement was still under construction.

The Market

By December the store's market, known as the "Arcade Market," was open for business. An ad that ran on December 9th, 1922, offered patrons a free 5x8 photo of themselves upon placing their first order. It read:

The Arcade Food Market, in the Basement of Goodman's Department Store, will issue an order on the Photo Studio, 5th floor, entitling customers making their first purchase of a dollar or more from any booth in the Arcade Market to a 5x8 photo of themselves absolutely free.

This is done to induce your early acquaintance with the most sanitary, centrally located market in Los Angeles.

The Downfall

Goodman's store was incredibly short-lived. The next mention in the Times is just three months later. The February 24th, 1923, article was titled "Store Head Seeks Huge Sum in Suit."

Apparently S. Goodman and Dunn-Williams didn't see eye to eye in the months after the fanfare filled launch. Goodman filed a $1,500,000 suit against the building owners alleging fraud.

The complaint, which is seventy typewritten pages long, charges that in Mr. Goodman's absense Mr. Williams and his associates took over the store by the exercise of fraud, asserting that the plaintiff owed them money. By this action, he says that he was prevented from paying his just debts and that convessionaires to whom he had sublet portions of the property were threatened with expulsion.

Who won? I don't know. What I do know is that in May the "Seventh and Hill Building" was running ads immediately selling off all the store's fixtures at an auction on May 28th.

$70,000 worth of fixtures in the Goodman's Department Store, 7th and Hill Sts., Los Angeles, to be auctioned at 714 South Hill street, on Monday, May 28 at 10 A.M.

Complete fixture equipment, comprising fixtures for every merchant's needs, such as showcase -- wall cases -- counters -- tables, etc. Including Grand Rapids revolving show cases of latest type for women's ready to wear apparel. All fixtures may be inspected prior to sale.

These fixtures must be sold on Monday, May 28. They are practically as good as new and have been installed only a few months. A marvelous opportunity for all merchants to supply their needs in high grade equipment at practically their own prices.

The department store's beauty parlor was noticed separately to be rented out.

The market isn't specifically mentioned in the liquidation ads, but it ran only two ads in the Times and none after April of 1923.

In February of 1924 the San Diego pair of J.D. Spreckels and A.B. Spreckels bought the building for approximately $2,750,000.

Lingering Questions

It seems to me that there's got to be a lot more to this story. How could a department store open so large and implode so quickly? Who was S. Goodman? What does the S. stand for?

I'd love to read that seventy page complaint Goodman filed in Superior Court. How do you generate seventy pages so quickly? I know Court records are public, but could they really pull up a case from 1923?

Aging Paint

The most remarkable thing to me is that the signage on the side of the building is over eighty-three years old and is still strong enough to make out. That's certainly a testiment to mild Los Angeles weather.

What signage from today will be around in 2089?

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History Lesson

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