Thursday, September 13, 2007

Safeway Fifties Style

The three photos above are of new Safeway stores opened in 1955, a very significant year in Safeway's 40-year long (at that point) history. In October 1955, longtime Safeway President Lingan A. Warren stepped down. Warren, as a Time magazine article put it, “built Safeway from nothing” during his 21 years at the chain’s helm. By the mid-50’s, however, despite store growth that would be impressive by any standard, profits were low as a result of Warren's pricing policies, and Safeway stockholders were restless. Enter Robert Magowan, a onetime Warren assistant and more recently a top manager at brokerage firm Merrill Lynch. Magowan, a dynamic, hard charging, customer-oriented executive also happened to have an important personal connection. He was the son-in-law of Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, who personally controlled a huge block of Safeway stock.

Magowan began by, among other things, reversing two key Warren policies – a “to the death” resistance to trading stamps and a reluctance to move Safeway into shopping centers. Both moves, particularly the embrace of the booming shopping center movement, helped to catapult Safeway to new heights. By 1958, only three years into Magowan’s reign, Safeway’s profits were at the top of the heap in the supermarket industry.

These three stalwart examples of classic Safeway 50’s architecture are (top to bottom) from Walnut Creek, California, Phoenix, and Mill Valley, California. Mount Tamalpais looms in the background in the third photo.


  1. I suppose, having family connections pay off well.

    I love how in the first picture, the entrance just comes alive with letters and all. I have never seen anything like that.

  2. I agree, although he ended up doing a pretty good job of running the company.

    The canopy on that 50's Safeway is really great. You would never see those today as I suspect they were pretty damage-prone. Lucky used a version of these on some of their stores - here's a nice example, courtesy of the legendary "Roadsidepictures" Flickr page:

  3. Nice. I like that alot! If only today's world wasn't so boring architecturally. (sigh)

  4. Any idea of the street the phx Safeway was on ? There were several all around the valley and were occupied by other businesses after Safeway moved out of these 50's style locations and into the marina style buildings in the 60's. Many of those stores were in shopping centers with Thrifty Drug. The Safeway we shopped at in phoenix had the Thrifty right next door and you could walk from one store to another without going outside. That didn't last long as shoplifters took advantage of the easy egress and the passage was sealed off with a roll down metal door.

  5. Jonel469 – Maybe someone can help us with the address. I’m wondering if the adjoining Thrifty was originally a Safeway Super S store – that would explain the shared entrance. Thanks for the comment!