Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lucky Stores 1950's - Three Squares


I've often wondered if the famed 65-foot tall Lucky Stores pylons, designed by the great Raymond Loewy, were meant to signify "three square meals a day". The materials for subject meals, of course, were available at everyday low prices from your friendly neighbor - the local Lucky supermarket. Oh, well. Someone please fill us in if you know the story.

Raymond Loewy was arguably the preeminent industrial designer of the 20th century, having designed everything from the famous WWII era Lucky Strike bullseye cigarette pack, to the Pennsylvania Railroad's streamlined steam locomotives to Evinrude outboard motors. By the 1960's, the Loewy firm seemingly had a hand in everything - automotive design, consumer products design and of course, retail store design. In effect, everything we retro-nuts love today. In 1947, Lucky Stores commissioned Loewy to design a new store prototype, as a Time Magazine article put it, "to see if barnlike, depressing super markets can be imbued with some beauty”. A Wall Street Journal article called the design “ten years ahead of its time”, a phrase used to no small extent in the chain’s press releases.

These new stores were a far cry from the chain's early stores. Lucky Stores, Inc. was founded in 1931 as “Peninsula Stores, Ltd.” with the assumption of (Piggly Wiggly founder) Clarence Saunders' grocery stores - in Burlingame, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto and San Jose. By 1935, seven more stores had been added, including the company’s first stores in the East Bay, in Berkeley and Oakland.

The photo above was taken circa 1953-56. 1956 was a banner year for Lucky, in which the company entered new geographic markets through the acquisition of three chains – thirty-two Cardinal stores in the Sacramento area, six Food Basket stores in San Diego and ten Jim Dandy stores in L.A., through a merger with Dolly Madison International Foods. Lucky also built nine new stores that year.

I’m not sure of the location of the store pictured, but it very strongly resembles the McHenry Shopping Center Lucky store which opened in 1953 in Modesto, as pictured in a newspaper photo at the time of opening. It shares major design elements (although the arrangement varies) with many other Luckys of the period, including Palo Alto’s Alma Plaza Lucky, the subject of a heroic, yet sadly failed preservation effort.

9 comments:

  1. Ironic that the old "three squares" Lucky looks more contemporary than the ones that came after it. If it weren't for the vintage cars parked in front, I'd almost expect to find a Starbucks nearby.

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  2. I agree. It's a pretty timeless design, and later versions seem much more dated today.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  3. This is the sign design that was on the Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek store, too. I think one still exists on the Peninsula, Millbrae or around there.
    Scott

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  4. I've seen a couple of different postcard views of the Walnut Creek/Broadway SC store. That whole shopping center looked great. I think I've seen a recent photo of surviving pylon Lucky (not a Lucky store any more, of course)but don't remember where it was.Can't be mnay of these left at all.

    Thanks!

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  5. The last 3-sqaure tower remaining is located at 1217 Tenth St. in Modesto,CA. The tower retains its original yellow and green colors despite not having been a Lucky since the mid 1970's. The building is currently occupied by a Smart&Final owned Cash and Carry store. The manager of the store is quite proud that the tower is still standing!

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  6. He has a lot to be proud of, Charles. It's nice to know that it exists in the original tile colors. Seems like most were painted over before they were eventually torn down.

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  7. Rumor has it the three squares were for the three-square meals. Although I got that from Romley, who may have gotten from you. It doesn't explain the stores with only two-squares (except for a theory about sign ordinances). Perhaps two square meals was the norm at one time? Adding a third would boost sales ;)
    Scott

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  8. Scott - I don't remember reading the "Three Square Meals" theory anywhere else before I wrote this post. Of course, a few months later I saw a photo of a Lucky store pylon with only two squares, which sent the theory down the drain! If Charles got it from me, I owe him an apology. :) (Or maybe people in the "two square" pylon areas didn't eat as much!)

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