There was a time when shopping was an uplifting experience, mainly because of the exquisite architecture of department stores. The mundane act of shopping for clothes, sporting goods or cosmetics was elevated to something extraordinary by a beautiful setting. In Palm Springs and Los Angeles, the pinnacle of this experience was that of Bullock.
The Los Angeles flagship store, Bullock, was a tour de force of the Art Deco style designed by John and Donald Parkinson. The interiors were equally spectacular and fitted out by an unfairly obscure master architect who is the subject of a magnificent new book by Christopher Long. Titled “Jock Peters, Architecture and Design: The Varieties of Modernism,” it’s essential reading for anyone who really wants to understand mid-century modern design in Southern California. Leafing through its pages, one wants to be in the rarefied interiors of Peters, even for a simple moment of shopping.
In Palm Springs, Bullock’s operated as a seasonal store, a “resort store” catering to wealthy tourists during the winter season. It first opened in a Spanish Mediterranean-style building at the Desert Inn.
The Los Angeles Times published an article announcing its opening in November 1930: “Housed in a newly constructed building of Spanish design with a red-tiled roof and cheery awnings, the store attracted a fashionable clientele. … Men’s and women’s sports and travel apparel are part of the store’s stock of merchandise. There is a room in which exclusively men’s items are exhibited. Boots, spurs, golf clubs, and sweaters contribute to a clubby exterior against a decor of hand-woven carpets of ancient Indian design and deep beige and rust leather chairs.
“The women’s shop is just as cheerful. Hand-woven curtains, walnut furniture specially built for Bullock’s Desert Inn Shop bring a feminine touch against a backdrop of fresh greens and henna with eye-catching offerings of sports and travel suits.
The store also provided furniture for several show homes from the late 1930s through the 1940s in Las Palmas and Little Tuscany.
In October 1947, Bullock’s opened a new Streamline Moderne building at 151 S. Palm Canyon Drive, which echoed the building’s grandeur in Los Angeles. The geometric and elegant vocabulary of the building was designed to contrast with its jagged backdrop of mountains beyond. The facade of the front pedestrian entrance and the rear elevation of the parking lot were symmetrical. A patio has been formed at the back with a circular bed of plantings placed in the middle.
“The new store will be unique in its expression of desert life.” Architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket told the Desert Sun on December 14, 1945: “The building is designed so that a sense of exterior freedom pervades all major sales areas. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls will be lined with flower and shrub gardens, while opaque walls will be heat-resistant Thermopane covered in adobe and desert stone.
Much attention has been paid to the cooling of a large store in the desert. The key was to let in the glorious sunlight during the temperate months, while sheltering the interior during the scorching summer. The architects designed long eaves over large storefronts and provided shade during the heat of the afternoons. Architectural Record in April 1948 noted that the solar control effort resulted in vertical louvers on the second floor and an elaborate cooling system suspended above the interior ceilings.
For a time, the interior of the department store was open on the first floor, demonstrating modern ideas about open and flexible spaces. On display at street level were clothing and departments for men, women, girls, intimates, dresses, suits, and coats, all fused together, separated only by small spur walls and structural supports. Architecture Record explained that the low counters and open plan allowed for the use of a small crew during the summer “off season”.
The second floor included a dining table department, sun and modern boutique, gifts, glass and china section, furniture, appliances, beds and linens – and all were accessible by the very first elevator in Palm Springs.
The presence of the chic, new and architecturally distinctive store had a huge impact on the desert as a whole.
Arthur Elrod moved to Palm Springs and found employment as a junior staff member in the furnishing department of the newly opened Bullock’s home in 1947, launching his vaunted career as a decorator from the spectacular building’s second floor.
Through her high fashion offerings, Bullock hosted fashion shows at the Desert Inn, the El Mirador Hotel, and the Racquet Club, which became a staple in the desert serving fundraising for various charities. and scholarships.
The beauty salon, also on the second floor, was particularly attractive. An advertisement in The Desert Sun stated: “There is exciting news in the hairdressing world, and Mr. Jay, well-known stylist of the famous American Hairdressers of New York, brings it to Bullock’s Palm Springs. This is the new 1957 version of the flattering, youthful Feather Cut… streamlined, streamlined with a new lightness. Mr. Jay introduces a whole host of exciting new Feather-Do’s at Bullock’s. You are invited for a free consultation this week while Mr. Jay is here. The streamlined Feather-Do was a perfect match for the clean, decidedly modern building.
That year, 1957, also saw the celebration of the new store’s 10th anniversary. City celebrities and Bullock bigwigs gathered at the Thunderbird Country Club for dinner. Addie Hubbard, the manager who opened the original store in 1930 at the Desert Inn, sat at the head table as guest of honor. The story of the entire Palm Springs institution and store was told. The tremendous growth enjoyed by the Palm Springs store over the next two decades was warmly applauded.
In the early 1990s, however, the building was vacant and had to be demolished because the alleged “asbestos problem makes renovation impossible”. It was to be replaced with a new shopping complex and parking structure. Many locals and conservationists have lamented the loss of this architectural gem. A generic stucco and tile building, sadly not uplifting or uplifting at all, now stands in its place.
Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Memories Thanks column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Email him at [email protected]