Today, the nameless building 443-447 South Broadway stands as a quiet reminder of the long decline of what was once the city’s premier commercial street. Apparently never known as anything other than its street address, the four-story structure was completed in 1902 as an office building with ground floor shops. Originally, its light-colored Classical Revival facade featured three large window bays on its upper floors, each further segmented by small columns.
Despite its construction as an office block, the building has spent most of the past century dedicated to retail use. At the time of the top photograph, it was fully occupied by the Bon Marché Clothing Company (unrelated to the Seattle-based department store), which had previously occupied several buildings along the 400 block of Broadway. That company closed its doors shortly afterwards; in 1927, the building reopened as the first west coast location of J. J. Newberry, a growing national chain of five-and-dime stores.
On February 25, 1931, the building narrowly escaped a violent brush with death when a fire of unknown origin raged through the store. Over the course of four hours, the blaze destroyed the entirety of its merchandise and interior furnishings, and further caused the building’s top floor to cave in. Miraculously, the disaster resulted in no deaths or serious injuries, in a story strangely similar to the Broadway Kress fire of 1944.
Quite surprisingly, J. J. Newberry chose to rebuild the severely damaged structure, and restored it to something fairly close to its original appearance. The department store was significantly enlarged in 1949 when Newberry took over the ground floor of the adjacent Metropolitan Building, which then became its primary entrance. Both the expanded location and the original store’s rebuilt facade are shown in this photograph from the Los Angeles Public Library.
Unfortunately, Newberry’s expansion came as bad news for 443-447 S. Broadway, as the company felt rather less obliged to preserve the smaller part of its property. At some point during the next two decades, the building’s upper stories were flattened and walled up while a large vertical sign was installed along its center. Only several openings were left as requisite fire escapes. The disastrous results are first seen in this view, also at LAPL.
It appears that J. J. Newberry maintaned its long presence on Broadway until all of its California stores were shuttered in 1997. Since then, its large former space has been occupied by the discount clothing retailer Fallas Paredes. While the revitalization of Broadway slowly moves forward, only time will tell if the battered building will receive yet another chance at life.
1. “Burned store to be rebuilt.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Feb. 1931. A1.
2. “J. J. Newberry Stores to Close.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Jan. 1997. 2
3. “Le Sages’ Bon Marche.” Los Angeles Times. 23 Feb. 1907. II4.
4. “Newberry branch to open here.” Los Angeles Times. 27 Apr. 1927. A13.
5. “Places cash on Broadway.” Los Angeles Times. 5 Oct. 1907. II1.
6. “Store to be enlarged.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Jun. 1907. II11.
Original photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “Bon Marché building, Southern California, 1926 – DW-1926-68-13-26~01.” Dick Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll170/id/73347