Grand Central Public Market, as it exists today, resulted from a grand but misplaced notion and an evolution in the character of downtown Los Angeles.
In 1897, Homer Laughlin erected the six-story building the market occupies today. Laughlin, a Civil War veteran who was mustered out of the 15th Ohio Infantry as a sergeant, made a fortune as a manufacturer of fine dinnerware; by the time he moved to Los Angeles, his factory had grown into the largest of its kind in the nation.
On Broadway he had constructed Los Angeles’ first fireproof, reinforced steel building, which housed a pioneer department store and offices.
After Laughlin’s death, Chester A. Goss, who had been an official with Seattle’s waterfront Pike Street Market, arrived in Los Angeles with big ideas of his own. He opened a stall-type market at 4th and Spring streets and it soon outgrew the building.
The former Seattle entrepreneur went to Homer Laughlin II with a proposition. He suggested that the two open a huge food hall on the ground floor of the Laughlin building and lease to concessionaires whose products would appeal to wealthy Angelenos.
In 1917, Grand Central Public Market opened with Goss as general manager.
“It was a carriage-trade market, much like Gelson’s and Irvine Ranch are today,” said Beach Lyon, father of Tracy, general manager of the Laughlin building and until it was sold recently one of the property’s owners. “Things apparently were rocky at the start. It took two years to fill the stalls and there were many more than there are today.”
In the bustling 1920s, the market was a bazaar for the wealthy--but only briefly because Goss had not foreseen changes that lay ahead. Once fashionable Bunker Hill ceased to be a carriage-trade area as downtown changed into a business district. The market did its greatest volume in 1944, when 1,270,000 shoppers moved through it in one month, said Beach Lyon, who added: “The market was three times as busy as it is today.”
Then in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Grand Central sustained a setback from which many thought it would never recover when Bunker Hill’s old homes, by now cheap hotels and apartments, were demolished by city fiat.
But once again Grand Central’s merchants anticipated the changes, modified their practices and began catering to the large Latino population that was drawn to Broadway.