From farmstead to food stands


The 70-year-old Farmers Market and the 2 1/2 -year- old Grove stand on part of an old dairy farm, the 256-acre section of Rancho la Brea that Illinois-born A.F. Gilmore bought at auction in 1880. It amounted to half a dozen blocks on either side of what would become Fairfax Avenue between 3rd Street and Beverly Boulevard, plus a few more blocks to the north, which gave it a roughly triangular shape.

While digging a well in 1890, Gilmore struck oil; in 1905, he got rid of his cows and turned the land into a highly productive oilfield. (The last oil wells weren’t taken out of production until 2001.) Because Gilmore’s property remained county land for many years after all his neighbors had voted to incorporate into the city of Los Angeles, it became known as Gilmore Island.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 12, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 12, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Farmers Market -- An article about Farmers Market in the Nov. 3 Food section indicated that CBS Television City was built on the site of Gilmore Field, a baseball stadium. It was built on the site of Gilmore Stadium, which had been used for other events such as races. The article also indicated that Gilmore Field was torn down in 1962. It was demolished in 1958.

In the 1930s, Earl B. Gilmore started to create a sort of entertainment one-stop on the property. By 1948 it included Gilmore Field (home of the Hollywood Stars baseball team), the 18,000-seat Gilmore Stadium, a drive-in movie theater and the Pan Pacific Auditorium, home of the Ice Capades.


In July 1934, Gilmore invited 18 farmers to drive onto property near the stadium and sell produce directly to the public from their trucks. Soon after, he added wooden stalls with canvas awnings. The Farmers Market was born.

On the eve of its opening, The Times noted that farmers markets had not done well in Los Angeles in the past. But what neither The Times nor anybody else anticipated was that the market would immediately attract food vendors, redefining the space as something much more than a sort of giant outdoor produce department.

Within weeks, Blanche Magee, who had a deli in the Grand Central Market downtown, noticed that many market denizens, farmers and shoppers alike, were complaining of being hungry, so she started serving coffee and sandwiches there. This led to the opening of Magee’s Kitchen, still in business 70 years later, and still specializing in sandwiches.

Magee suggested putting in bathrooms. She also installed the market’s water and electrical connections. It was her son who had the idea of installing tables and chairs, which have long been painted a signature lime green.

The market soon evolved into a place to eat and hang out, as well as to shop for produce. By the end of the 1930s, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was spotting Hollywood celebrities wandering the aisles.

In 1941, the original wooden stalls came down and up went the shingle-roofed buildings that stand today, as well as the clock tower that has become the market’s symbol.

In 1950, CBS Television City went up on the spot where Gilmore had once had his baseball stadium. Three other Gilmore venues came down in the ensuing three decades: Gilmore Field became obsolete when Dodger Stadium went up in 1962; the Pan Pacific Auditorium stood empty for years until it was destroyed in a 1989 fire; and the drive-in closed in 1979 because they were no longer popular with moviegoers.

With no spillover from these once popular venues, the market was in danger of stagnating.

In the mid-1980s, Hank Hilty, grandson of the market’s founder, tried putting together various projects for revitalizing the property. One was a mall that would have been twice as large as Universal City and would have included high-rise office buildings and residential units.

Many worried that this plan would impose a heavy burden on surrounding streets and radically change the character of the Farmers Market. The Grove, built with mall developer Rick Caruso, may look titanic next to the market, but it is much more modest than the earlier plan.

Some help came in 1986, when Charles Myers opened the Gumbo Pot, and two years later Kokomo Cafe, turning the market into an actual dining destination, which in turn opened it to a new generation of ethnic restaurants.

-- Charles Perry