Despite the destruction and decline that has afflicted much of downtown Los Angeles, the heart of Broadway can generally seem surprisingly well preserved above the ground floor. Perhaps the most unfortunate loss on this particular block was the original terra cotta facade of the five-story commercial building at 621-625 South Broadway.
S. H. Kress & Co., the then ever-expanding five and dime department store chain, opened its first Los Angeles store in 1920 in the newly built structure. Somewhat incredulously, in addition to the store’s display areas and lunchroom, the location also originally provided living quarters for over 400 employees. On July 14, 1944, a large fire started in the basement kitchen tore through the building, causing extensive damage to the property, though thankfully no deaths.
Although I’d originally assumed that the building’s exterior was removed during susbsequent repairs, it seems that it lasted at least into the early 1950s. According to the records of USC Libraries Special Collections, the photo was taken c. 1940-1949. However, the Los Angeles Theatre’s partly visible marquee at the right suggests a slightly later date. Assuming that the “first run exciting film hits” are Just for You starring Bing Crosby and Tropic Zone with Estelita Rodriguez and Ronald Reagan, the picture was surely taken in early 1953, nearly nine years after the fire.
In the end, Kress held on to its Broadway presence for six full decades. In 1980, Genesco Inc., which purchased the chain in 1963, began switfly closing and selling its flagging Kress store properties. Since then, the now cheerless building has housed a number of small retail and office tenants.
1. “Big Downtown block planned.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Jan. 1918. V1.
2. “Firemen rescue scores in downtown store blaze.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Jul. 1944. 1.
3. “Link is added here to big store chain.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Mar. 1920. V8.
4. Moreland, Pamela. “Kress in talks to sell downtown store site to unnamed company.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Nov. 1980. C11.
Original photo: “View of the west side of Broadway, looking south from the Los Angeles Theater at Sixth Street, ca.1940-1949 -chs-m126.” California Historical Society Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/assetserver/controller/view/search/CHS-42084.