What is now internally referred to as LACMA West, the building on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, used to be a May Co. department store. Built in 1939, the building is a beautiful example of streamline moderne architecture; the store had four floors of merchandise and a fifth floor housed a tearoom and restaurant. Eventually the tearoom became a place where women would come daily to play panguingue, a variation of gin rummy and bridge. Purchased by the museum in 1994, some of the staff was moved over to this building with the ever-growing demand for more space. There are still a lot of places in the building that have never been converted. Last week I had our building supervisor, Harry, take me on a tour of these unused spaces of the building. Harry has worked here for over 18 years and patrols this building, top to bottom, every day.
A giant water tower used to sit on the roof. It was so big that when they removed it they had to break it down into several pieces to get it down the stairs and out the doors.
All of the escalators, while not working, are still here.
May Co. used to house the Craft and Folk Art Museum on the fourth floor
A beautiful example of old lettering.
Outstanding employees walk of fame
Someone was drinking on the job; an old bottle of Imperial Irish Whiskey.
Before there were security cameras there was someone, on the other side of the wall, spying on customers to make sure no one was shoplifting.
Part of Michael C. McMillen’s Central Meridian, The Garage.
Does this not remind you of something out of Dr. Strangelove?
This is amazing! Is there any chance LACMA might consider putting together a very small tour of the unconverted space?
Allowing some local photographers to capture the space in different lighting conditions would be so fantastic!
Is this where the new Photography department will be located?
Thanks for sharing!
Wow does this bring back memories!! My mom and I used to shop here and Bullock’s Wilshire , Farmer’s Market, Canters. Ladies wouldn’t think of going shopping in slacks. We’d get dressed up and make a day of it. We weren’t even from LA. We came from San Gabriel Valley. Lots of good memories. I’m glad this is still here
Excellent. Museum operations are usually pretty closed to the public. These behind-the-scenes posts are a great way to change that.
My father was one of the first employees when the store opened. He worked in the linen department, but soon after became the assistant buyer,then the buyer, and moved to the downtown store. We lived in Parklabrea, so the Wilshire store was convenient for him. Downtown meant a bus ride, then a drive when we got a secnd car. My mother and I did almost all our shopping at the May Co. Wilshire.
I was very happy when LACMA took over the building, saving an important historic landmark.
Brought back memories of working here, 1943 and 1944 after school (Hamilton High) and summer vacations. Was an elevator operator, chosen for “looks”, wearing a smart light brown uniform, and reciting what merchandise was on each floor. In summers worked at the information desk, and modeled in the Oval Room on Thursday evenings.
It should also be noted that if it weren’t for the efforts of the Los Angeles Conservancy and its volunteers, the building would not have been saved to later become part of LACMA. The previous owner after May Co left wanted to demolish the building for new development. A similar fate occurred when the Broadway (originally Coulter’s) down the street was torn down for a project that was never built with the property remaining a vacant lot for 20 years until recent new construction.
meghan, this is amazing! what a great post.
Incredible, very enjoyable. I had never been in this building. Really interesting and thanks for the peeks.
Award-winning LA digital artist Melvin Hale has recently released an artwork of the May Company around its opening. It shows shoppers and cars and the new building. The image is from a vintage black and white postcard that is brought to life in color. It’s at his web gallery: http://www.artistla.com/new_releases_c01.htm
What a fascinating piece. Conceptually, this is a master stroke and has obviously generated a great deal of interest. I love the composition of your photos and the subjects on which you settled. Great stuff.
it’s a shame what the county museum has been doing (and not doing) with this landmark building.
I understand the Academy of Science and Motion Pictures will take over the May Co building. Check out the new design of the building.
[…] the public since LACMA bought it in the '90s and there aren't many photos available (LACMA's blog shared a few, much eerier ones back in 2010). Architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali will overhaul the 1939 building and add a […]
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Sometime between 1944 to 1948 my mother was a hostess In the tea room. We lived in sunland & mom rode the bus both ways then worked a second job at sterlings cafe til midnight in sunland. On Saturdays I sometimes went with mom, she would give 30 cents and I would go to movies all day . A close friend of hers also was a long Time tea room hostess, I think her name was chubby wallis,