Demolition of famed Beverly Hills department store begins

All that remains of the once-grand Robinsons-May store on Wilshire Boulevard is the signage in Beverly Hills.
All that remains of the once-grand Robinsons-May store on Wilshire Boulevard is the signage in Beverly Hills.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

With its floor-to-ceiling windows, striking marble exterior and seemingly endless displays of fine imported crystal, Robinson’s stood at the entrance to Beverly Hills for years as a symbol of elegance.

But on Wednesday, the once-grand department store was missing its bold, blocky “R.” Chunks of concrete and curled metal hung limply off the cracked side of the dilapidated building.


Robinson’s: An article in the July 24 LATExtra section about the demolition of the former Robinson’s department store in Beverly Hills said Red Richmond, a Beverly Hills resident whose family frequented the store, grew up in Beverly Hills. Richmond grew up in Bel-Air, New York and Florida.
More than 62 years after the store’s 1,100-space parking lot first welcomed shoppers into four spacious levels, Robinsons-May is finally being demolished.


“It’s sad. None of us know what’s going to be there,” said Dorothy Salkin, 78, a longtime Westwood resident who shopped at Robinson’s countless times. “It was the most beautiful store I’ve ever seen. Not like any other.”

Although it sits on one of the most desirable pieces of real estate in the country, the building has been unoccupied for nearly a decade. Its demolition has loomed since the property went back on the market this spring. It has yet to be sold.

The city of Beverly Hills issued a demolition permit to BH Wilshire International on June 26, a city spokeswoman said. The developer agreed to demolish the store during the summer when a nearby school was out of session. The work must be completed before school resumes.

The property has gone through multiple owners in recent years.
Laurie Lustig-Bower, a broker with CBRE Group Inc., which is marketing the property, said she expects the current owner to sell it “within the next couple months.”

Previous owners had secured approvals to build a 235-unit condominium complex designed by Getty Center architect Richard Meier on the eight-acre space.

“On the one hand, it’s a department store that’s no longer there,” Lustig-Bower said. “But now it’s an opportunity for someone to have a beautiful place to live. The time has come for it to be developed and enjoyed by people again.”


In recent years, the property’s various owners have been unable to find lenders willing to fund the project.

Public records indicate BH Wilshire International and other groups including Joint Treasure are among the property’s owners.

Representatives of the sellers could not be reached.

Lustig-Bower said it was not clear whether any pieces of the former department store were salvaged.

“This is an important building designed by important architects William Pereira and Charles Luckman, and it remained remarkably intact for decades,” said Linda Dishman, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s executive director. “We hope its loss serves as a reminder of how vulnerable our historic resources are.”

For some longtime locals, the space will always hold precious memories.
Salkin recalled that, decades ago, store managers once prepared for Queen Elizabeth’s arrival by decorating it with British flags and colors.

“I thought, ‘This is the most beautiful store I’ve ever seen. I know I’ll shop there all the time.’ And I did.”


But as Salkin on Wednesday pulled into a gas station that abuts the lot, she gaped at the claw of a screeching dump truck as it rose above a covered chain-link fence. After she finished pumping gas into her red Lexus, she parked the car, got out and stood between two shrubs to peek through a crack in the gate.

“It looks like a bomb hit it,” she said.

Seeing the building fall has been bittersweet-- “like watching a slow cancer,” said Red Richmond, who grew up and still lives in Beverly Hills. She recalls nights out at Robinson’s -- where her father bought his suits and ties and where her mother became flustered when she saw the actor Robert Taylor buying a sweater.

“It was the go-to store,” she said. “I am sorry to see the old place go, but better to remember it as it once was.”

Email and follor @MattStevensLAT.

Times staff writers Martha Groves and Roger Vincent contributed to this report.