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Los Angeles and Environs in the 1930's

The following essays are excerpted from a wonderful little guide to Los Angeles written by Elizabeth Webb-Herrick in 1935 entitled "Curious California Customs" published by Pacific Carbon and Printing Company. We've written a little introduction to each essay to bring you up to date.

Bullock's Tea Room (Downtown)

Tea rooms were big in the thirties. When's the last time you had a 'finger sandwich'? Teatime is coming back and several L.A. restaurants now offer a four o'clock tea. Retro gentility... (gf)

If we could make a flying cook's tour of the various cities which we mentioned in our Prologue, what fun it would be to seek out the outstanding tearoom in each place in order to determine what culinary tidbit is peculiar to that vicinity. Thus, in New York, we would doubtless find our way to one of Alice Foote Mac-Dougall's charming locations. There we would sample her famous waffles, and either the coffee or chocolate for which she is famous. Of course, Long Island duck must be eaten on its native heath to really be appreciated. At Filene's, in Boston, we would order their famous scallops.

Philadelphia's pride, Strawbridge and Clothier, make a bid for fame with their Rockaway Club Sandwich, made with fried oysters instead of the traditional chicken. Citizens of the Windy-City-on-the-Lake are loyal to their own Marshall Field's, and usually order the potato flour muffins, which started as a necessity during the war, and have been basking in well deserved popularity ever since. Chicagoans consume quantities of their stuffed chicken legs at Field's also.

In New Orleans' Creole Quarter, at Antoine's, we find it very easy to develop a taste for soft shell crabs fried deliciously crisp in breadcrumbs and their famous pralines have been distributed pretty generally everywhere but taste better here for some reason. If we can arrange it, we might drop in at Stix, Baer & Fuller's in St. Louis and order their deep seafood plate with toasted anchovy rolls. Back in California, however, we make a bee line for Bullock's, Broadway, Hill and Seventh, where we gorge ourselves on the Spanish Plate. This is about the finest introduction we could devise for visitors, unused to Spanish food, because it is not overseasoned and yet different enough to warrant experimentation. As a civic gesture, we point with pride to this truly representative dish. Consists of small Tamales, Spanish Bean, Salad and toasted cheese sandwiches.

For over twenty-five years now, the name of Bullock's has stood, for something definite to Angelenos. Their downtown store has many unusual departments, and the tea room has been the outstanding meeting place for shoppers and business people. There is usually one place in every town, you know, and this is it.

Miss Larson handles the tea rooms in all three of the Bullock's Stores - Westwood and the Wilshire Boulevard project, and what alchemy she uses to concoct menus is her own secret. Everything she serves looks like a page from Good Housekeeping in its perfection, and tastes like the prize recipes of the greatest experts in domestic science.

At the moment, they are making a specialty of the buffet luncheon service, which gives one a bewildering choice of hot dishes and salads such as only seem to originate in the fertile brain of a culinary artist. Everything looks so appetizing on a buffet table, doesn't it? You fill up your plate and take your seat and your choice of drinks is brought to you, together with the particular hot bread you order. There are a number of choices for dessert. They're all capital - you just can't go wrong. These buffets are 85 cents - and there's a table d'hote luncheon also and the usual diet special. (Spectre at the feast!) These run about the same price. The only trouble with this place is it's even better than home. We wouldn't advise taking the man of the family there, he might draw some unflattering comparisons, but on the other hand you wouldn't have any trouble getting him to take you to lunch again either!

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Bullocks Wilshire Store

The Bullocks Wilshire store is a excellent example of art deco style architecture. I've always loved the building. It's currently being re-invented as a law school and library. To me this seems odd -- but it's better than the wrecking ball don't you know.

On the Fifth Avenue of Los Angeles, Wilshire Boulevard, the visitor's eye is immediately attracted by a graceful building with a greenish tower, which soars 241 feet above the Boulevard. In this building, one finds the quintessence of modernity and smartness in a series of small shops, very similar to those "little shops" which are so publicized by authors and fashion magazines, situated on Park and Madison Avenues in New York City. The different decorations and lighting maintains the separate unit illusion, despite the fact that it is all one store.

One doesn't just go through this place, but is gently inducted into its many manifestations of carefully worked out display. It's rather like scrutinizing an extremely smart woman, whose clothes are subservient to her individuality, and yet signal their expensive simplicity to even the most unobservant. There is a noticeable lack of swank, and yet so exquisitely worked out in each tiny detail, that the atmosphere is one of dignity and charm.

The giant porte cochere hospitably welcomes all cars as they sweep up to the back entrance, and the passengers alight in perfect seclusion. One's car is spirited away by uniformed attendants, and the ever present menace of the parking problem is solved for once. It's a perfect set-up for the motion picture colony, who have virtually taken possession of this store and marked it for their own.

There isn't a day that at least several of them fail to pay a visit, and the sight of Norma Shearer nonchalantly garbed in pale pink lounging pajamas trying on gloves, or Adolphe Menjou and his glamorous new bride pricing (and buying) English pigskin luggage, is a common enough sight here.

The Desert Tea Room on the Fifth floor is the rendezvous for every body. The day we were last there, Gloria Swanson, closely squired by her latest fancy, Herbert Marshall, wasn't even creating a flutter. The employees are so used to this sort of thing, you see.

By the way, this tea room is something you must be sure to visit. The desert motif is so very restful and the copper cactus on the window grating sets the tempo, which is so well carried out that even the slats on the Venetian blinds are painted alternately in pink and green and ivory to keep the decor!

Miss Larson holds sway over this tea room also, insuring the usual Bullock standard of culinary excellence. There is usually a "streamline luncheon" on the menu, for those built on Westian lines to order with a clear conscience, and here the poor souls need not envy their more fortunate sisters who are eating away for dear Life on pecan rolls and French chocolate layer cake. For once in their lives, they get a break. Even the vegetable plate is well-planned and will restore the good humor of the most unwilling dieter; grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, string beans, peas, asparagus, squash and celery - all of them delicious and you can do your duty by your stomach and enjoy yourself.

There are such things as stuffed zucchini, cream cheese ring with assorted fruit, fresh strawberry dressing, and always orange bread and date and nut bread and cheese bread (ambrosial!) and a list of desserts to make one's mouth water.

Tuesdays there is a fashion luncheon at $1.25, which is slightly more than the usual $I.00 affair, or a salad special at 85 cents or thereabouts. Out in the Desert Lounge, are cannily displayed the most decorative baskets of stuffed fruits, and the show case is always filled with delectable cookies; little fancy cookies which tempt the weak sisters anew, as well they may, with their enticing shapes and nutty goodness. The fruit cake is one of the house specialties at $1.25 the pound, and is very gay with its top dressing of candied fruits. At the moment, they are featuring agar-agar candy, again for the diet-conscious, which sells for $1.00 a pound and is simply extraordinary - ask them to let you taste it, and you're as good as sold.

Tea time is always lovely up here, for the view is superb from the top story, embracing as it does the blue hills of Hollywood and an avenue of regal palms lining an adjacent street. Here again you will have the urban sophistication we promised you, plus the scenic panorama, which we just throw in! It all comes under the heading of California - didn't we tell you?

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The Beverly Wilshire Hotel

Located in Beverly Hills abutting Rodeo Drive, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel is still with us and remains in very good health in its middle age. (gf)

It is quite a nice gesture on the part of Fate, that it should be Walter McCarty who is the proud possessor of this de luxe caravansary, for Mr. McCarty, you know, is one of the papas of Beverly Hills, or didn't you know? Oh, yes, he subdivided or plotted it (or whatever it is they do to land before there are any streets or lights or houses on it) and he was one of the lucky few who came out of the huddle with his shirt still on; so often these real estate promoters lose theirs. Now, he is able to point with pride to the super-structures which stand in serried ranks against a sunset sky in vivid contrast to the fields of waving barley of the not-so-long-ago.

No wonder Californians are so fond of this country out here. You see they have literally created every single stick and stone, and the buildings aren't the only things that are staggered - the imagination's pretty breathless too!

It must be lots of fun to see a dream come true and when it takes on such form as this splendid hotel, it must be soul-satisfying. The lobby is done in Louis Quinze period style, all ormolu clocks and gilt and cupids and Aubusson carpets, and the graciousness of this motif after the austerity of the Spanish and modern interiors we've been seeing, is very warm and grateful to the eye.

There's a lot to be said for this period all right, and it's all being very well expressed by this unusually fine example. Women especially like this sort of background. It sets them off, and reaches a focus with the cut glass chandeliers, Their tinkling, sparkling prisms catch and hold the daintiness of a festive era.

In the Gold Room, the quintessence of luxury has been attained. No expense or pains have been spared to make it a superb playground for Fortune's favorites, and Friday nights the younger set moves in and takes possession. Saturday nights belong to the hoi polloi and Sundays there is the best crowd of all for dinner dancing.

It seems Los Angeles prohibits dancing on the Sabbath, so if you feel a rhumba coming on, get into your car quick, and do the few miles in nothing flat, and dance to your heart's content. Vincent Lopez wields the baton, so you won't find it very tough going! Friday nights there is a cover charge of $1.00 after 9:30 o'clock, and Saturdays and Sundays $1.50. They feature a table d'hote dinner for $1.50 and a de luxe affair for $2 .50. Suppers consist of interesting items ranging in price from $1.00 up. One combination consists of lobster a la newburg with melba toast (as a sop to the conscience probably) coffee, and rainbow ice. Their liquors are their especial pride. Drop around some night and tell the genial Mr. Jennings, the manager, we sent you!

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Excerpts from: Webb-Herrick, Elizabeth (1935) "Curious California Customs - Los Angeles Edition" Pacific Carbon & Printing Company. Los Angeles, California. 116pgs.

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