Howard Automobile Company Building, 356 South Western Avenue, c.1930-2014

WesternBuickc. 1930-2014

Deeply buried as it is within the chaotic streetscape of Western Avenue, the remains of one of Los Angeles’ most stunning car showrooms can still be seen at the avenue’s northeast corner with Fourth Street. Completed in 1930, the building at 356 South Western Avenue originally served as a Buick dealership for the Howard Automobile Company. As seen in the top photograph, the showroom boasted a striking Art Deco design centered around a stylized tower soaring to eighty feet. Its execution additionally reflected the emergence of a standard architectural form for automobile dealerships; the comparatively staid ground floor façade served to highlight its expanses of tall showroom windows. The innovative nature of its design becomes quickly apparent when compared to the Hudson and Essex showroom at Western Avenue and Sixth Street, completed only five years earlier.

Since then, the building has changed hands and uses several times. In search of a larger, more prominent space, the Howard Automobile Company moved its Wilshire District location in 1940 to Wilshire Boulevard and Mariposa Street. For some time after that, the building housed the city’s main offices of Lerner Shops, a New York-based fashion chain. Lerner Shops moved its offices in 1956, and the building was converted into a printing facility.

In its most recent incarnation, the former showroom has been rebuilt as a shopping center known as Cosmos Village, an unfortunate mess of gaudy Postmodernism and automobile-orientated design. While the tower remains largely intact, the building’s lower façade has been walled up and appended with thick pilasters, signboards, and fake fan windows. As is typical of late-century shopping centers, the building’s retail spaces are only accessible from the parking lot at the rear of the property.

A nighttime view of the original building [California State Library]

1. “Buick to have new home.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Mar. 1930. F5.
2. “General printing acquires Gartner.” Los Angeles Times. 7 May 1957. C10.
3. “Howard moves to new location on Wilshire.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Jul. 1940. E4.
4. “Pioneer auto concern celebrates birthday.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Nov. 1932. D6.
5. “Site purchased for service unit.”Los Angeles Times. 20 Mar. 1955. E17.
Original photo: Mott Studios. “Exterior full front view Howard Motor Company building, 4th and Western, Los Angeles.” Mott-Merge Collection. California State Library.

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