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38 Years Ago: Broadway Department Store Moved Off Namesake Street

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2011, at 09:46AM
Broadway Department Store - 1951 Dick Whittington Studio / USC Digital Archives

A view of the Broadway Department Store in 1951 shows the 1912 building on the corner and the taller 1924 addition on 4th Street. The store held roughly 600,000 square feet of floor space.

On November 16, 1973, the doors to the Broadway Department Store were closed one final time at 4th and Broadway, the corner the then-massive store had inhabited since its founding in 1896.

The next day, the store opened its doors at 7th and Flower, inside the new mixed-use Broadway Plaza.

It was actually in August of 1895 that the "Broadway Department Store" opened its doors at 401 S. Broadway, but the store's first incarnation was forgettable. J.A. Williams and Co. opened the small store, advertising that "the people of Los Angeles have never seen goods sold at our prices." The store made it through the holiday season and then promptly went bankrupt.

On February 24, 1896, Arthur Letts took over operation of the failed enterprise, advertising a massive bankruptcy sale to move all of the store's previous wares within 30 days.

Letts had a magic touch, and by 1911 the store had grown to four floors and 125,000 square feet.

It wasn't enough, though, and in 1913 Letts leased three floors in the Clark Hotel on Hill Street as a temporary home during the construction of a new nine-story building with nearly 11 acres of floor space. The three-phased construction project wrapped in 1915.

Only a few years later, the store expanded again, adding a height-limit addition on 4th Street that gave the store another 120,000 square feet of floor space.

The frenetic pace was too much for Letts, who at this point was also the head of Bullock's Department Store. He suffered a nervous breakdown in April of 1923 that his doctors attributed to overwork. A month later he came down with pneumonia and passed away.

The Broadway chain operated until 1995, when it was absorbed into the Macy's brand.

As for the store's massive headquarters on Broadway, the building is now owned by the State of California and known as the Junipero Serra building.


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