Closures by Macy Include Former Bullocks Wilshire : Retailing: The Art Deco landmark, which is now an I. Magnin, is among eight stores to close in California.
The I. Magnin department store on Wilshire Boulevard, which in its heyday as Bullocks Wilshire represented the pinnacle of fashion in Los Angeles, will close at the end of the month because of the lingering Southland recession and the troubles of its parent company.
R. H. Macy & Co. said Monday it will close the historic, Art Deco-style store along with seven other I. Magnin and Bullock’s stores in California under a plan to improve profits as it reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Overall, Macy will close 11 stores nationwide, idling 1,450 workers--including more than 900 in the Southland.
Of the California stores, the most prominent is the former Bullocks Wilshire, owned by Caltech and leased to Macy. Caltech said it has not decided what to do with the building.
Before World War II, Bullocks Wilshire was a carriage trade store, a place where aspiring actresses such as Angela Lansbury worked as salesclerks and publishing baron William Randolph Hearst shopped for swimwear. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservationists consider it one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture.
The store’s troubles began with the rise of suburban shopping centers and the decline of the central city. The coup de grace was last year’s riots, which resulted in $10 million in damage and drove customers away.
The riots compounded the problems of a weak retail environment in Southern California, which has yet to feel the nascent recovery under way elsewhere in the nation. That is reflected in the fact that most of the stores Macy is closing are in California.
Macy’s decision comes on the heels of closures and consolidations of May Co. and Robinson’s stores in Southern California, the shutdown of the Buffums stores and cutbacks at the Broadway chain.
The retail woes have been felt most acutely in downtown Los Angeles, which under the Macy plan will lose the Bullock’s at the Seventh Market Place in Citicorp Plaza--one of only three major department stores left in the downtown core.
Other Southland stores to be closed include the Bullock’s in Lakewood and Grossmount Shopping Center in La Mesa and the I. Magnin stores in Sherman Oaks and La Jolla. Those stores will close before June, the company said. Twenty-nine Bullock’s and I. Magnin stores will remain in the state.
Macy, in bankruptcy since January, 1992, took pains to explain to Mayor Tom Bradley its decision to leave Los Angeles’ central city.
“We wanted (Bradley) to know that we’re trying to protect the overall business and employees throughout the company,” Myron E. Ullman, co-chairman of Macy, said in a telephone interview. “When you are in Chapter 11 reorganization, you have to focus on the things that will help you save the whole (company) instead of focusing on the saving of certain stores.”
Bradley called the announcement a “sad chord” for many shoppers.
“These facilities have provided more than clothing and merchandise for shoppers,” Bradley said in a statement. The stores have “provided jobs for Los Angeles residents and economic vitality to the surrounding communities. These stores will be sorely missed in the city of Los Angeles.”
Macy said it will give preference to idled workers when filling job openings at its remaining stores but there are no guarantees.
More than 300 people work at the I. Magnin on Wilshire, which Macy acquired when it purchased the Bullock’s and I. Magnin chains from Federated Department Stores in 1988. Macy officially changed all Bullocks Wilshire stores to I. Magnins at that time.
When the high-class specialty store was opened on Wilshire in September, 1929, it was only the second store of the fledgling Bullock’s firm, and it signaled the beginning of major commercial expansion outside of downtown Los Angeles.
The building was touted by Bullock’s company founders as a “cathedral to commerce” because it evoked the sense of a Gothic tower.
The store was a favored shopping haunt for Hollywood film stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Hearst bought large quantities of swimwear from the store for use at his pool at his San Simeon mansion. Former First Lady Pat Nixon and actresses Lansbury and June Lockhart once worked in the sales department.
For the landmark store near MacArthur Park, the beginning of the end came with the riots.
Joy Frommer, senior vice president and director of stores for I. Magnin, said looters sacked the store, breaking every glass case on the first floor.
“It was a shambles. There was nothing left on the first floor,” said Frommer, who came from her headquarters in San Francisco to survey the damage the next day.
The store reopened after a week, but business has not been the same. More recently, the store’s customer base has shrunk further with the closure of a nearby hotel and the move of a 400-employee business from across the street to Valencia.
Still, news of the store’s imminent closure came as a shock Monday to some longtime customers.
“I felt very sad when I heard the news today,” said Los Feliz resident Dorothea Cenname, who has been coming to the store for 37 years. “Absolutely devastated. . . . I love the ambience of the store . . . and I love the clothes. It’s very warm and inviting . . . and it reminds a little bit of London, of Harrod’s,” she said in the lilting accent of her native Wales.
Rozina Burfford, 80, has eaten lunch in Bullocks Wilshire’s fifth-floor tearoom almost every week for the last 25 or so years. Most times these days the retired schoolteacher dines by herself. If it’s Friday, she has the clam chowder. Mostly, though, she goes for the company of the store’s clerks and employees, who all recognize her, she says.
“Everyone knows me in the store in every department,” she said. “They are courteous. I like the atmosphere. It reminds me of the way things used to be.”
One elderly customer said she used to shop regularly at the store, but decried the selection of merchandise since Macy took over.
“I frankly came down to spend money, but I couldn’t find anything,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “I never saw such a bunch of junk in my life. I found one suit that I would buy, but it was $1,500 and I wasn’t ready to pay that much.”
That sentiment was echoed, albeit with less vehemence, by other customers.
Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, said the group is willing to help Caltech find a new tenant. Caltech received the property as a donation in 1942. “This is a sad day because it’s one of the most significant buildings in Los Angeles,” she said.