Friday, October 24, 2008

A Leisurely Day at Alpha Beta, 1966

Here’s a magnificent example of modern day Spanish-style retail architecture – built in 1965! This 1966 photo is shown courtesy of the Orange County Archives, thanks to Chris Jepsen for the tip. This Alpha Beta supermarket opened in March 1965 at the Rossmoor Leisure World Shopping Center in Laguna Hills, coinciding with the opening of the adjacent huge retirement community of the same name. Though the architectural look of this store is heavily employed today, it was exceptional at the time even for Alpha Beta, most of whose new stores had more of a “sixties look” (whatever that means). The store would have easily fit right in with those opened five, ten or more years later. Shopping here would definitely have been my idea of leisure - yours?

Update 10/25/08 - Although gas stations aren't part of the normal fare on this site, I went ahead and added the other Leisure World area photo from the O.C. archives - a Chevron station pic from the same year, 1966, to show how the Spanish-themed architecture carried over through the entire development. This photo has a couple of other interesting aspects - the "mini unisphere" globe in the background which was the logo for Leisure World, and the hand painted "gas war" sign. "Gas wars" were a staple of American life in the years prior to the 1970's energy crisis. Competing stations on opposite corners would cut their price by a penny or two (which was a lot when gas was just 26 cents a gallon!), and the others would scramble to follow suit. Makes me wish the Exxon station down the street would duke it out on my behalf!


  1. That doesn't look like a dated piece of architecture at all. Go to Florida, and be witness to many Publix Super Markets of similar design built in the 80s and 90s.

  2. Take away the 1960's models in the parking lot and it could easily have been built in 1974 and still look modern. Further remove the S&H Green Stamps signage in it could be a new store of the early 80's.

    One thinng I lament about supermarkets from the 1970's ownward, is that the chains moved away from the signature design elements, such as the A&P Centennial, Safeway Marina/Gable, and Alpha Beta Ranch and matched the shopping center design. The look was great when the shopping center had good architectural details, but more often, the look was generic. Kroger bucked this trend with its superstore format in 1972, and again with the 1980's greenhouse design. Grand Union would churn out some gems as well, along with Jewel, Fazio's, and National. Publix even settled into the generic look for the 1970's.

    One thing can be stated for sure, a good design will age much better than generic designs.

  3. I am totally confused as to where this store is located.

    I found an adress of 23541 Calle De La Luisa, Laguna Hills. This would place it across from the Laguna hills Mall.

    Looking at the 1972 Historic Aerial, the only market looking building there is on the corner of El Toro and Paseo Del Valencia, where the Longs Drugs is.

    Unless Calle De La Luisa was re-routed and renamed (it still exists as the road between the hospital and mall.

    Now as for Rossmore, that is a totally different area in Orange County. Its up next to Long Beach/Seal Beach. There is a leisure world there too, but that tall white building isnt there today (then again , I couldnt find it in Laguna Hills).

  4. Jack - The Spanish architecture that's seen so much in Calfornia and Arizona seems everywhere in Florida as well. I've seen some of the Publix stores you describe. many of the Florida Albertsons stores had the same look as well. It still looks up to date, I agree.

    Ken - You're absolutely right. It's almost a startling effect, where you'd expect to see modern cars in the lot instead of all that good old U.S.-built iron.

    I miss the classic styles too. So much individuality disappeared with the advent of the 70's. The Kroger 80's greenhouse stores just didn't seem to age as well, in my opinion, but they looked good in their prime. A great many of these have been remodeled over the last decade.

    Jeff - I haven't been able to find the store on any online map. The Calle De La Luisa address does make sense because of the tall Rossmoor building with the white arches in the background to the right. It fits. The Rossmoor building still stands, if you check Windows Live Local. Rossmoor had "Leisure Worlds" in both Seal Beach and Laguna Hills, and few others in non-Socal locations.

    Maybe the Alpha Beta store was torn down in order to make expansion room for the medical center across the street from Laguna Hills Mall.

  5. I'm not sure of the exact location myself, but the background provides a serious clue. You can just see the top of the "Taj Mahal" office building on the right hand side of the Alpha Beta photo. That building still stands, not far from the Laguna Hills Mall.

  6. Love the carts lying around in the parking lot most notably the one propped against the car. The Buggy Rack sign is excellent (I have one in my room). The AB tiles are not red yet, they are green.

  7. Is it possible that the Alpha Beta and the Standard gas station is located at the corner of El Toro Road / Moulton Parkway.

    The gas station on this corner today (Mobil) is almost identical to the picture of the 60s. Plus there is a shopping center located here that is a Vons today. It has the diagonal parking like the Alpha Beta picture and looks to be built around the same time period. Now, I wouldnt know where the leisure world sculpture or the Rossmore building would fit at this location. Unless all shopping centers in Laguna area were styled exactly the same this shopping center looks like it fits best to the one in the 60s.

  8. Hi Jeff,
    Please disregard my last post. I was wrong. It looks like the gas station still exists as a 76 on the corner of El Toro/ Paseo de Valencia. I agree with you that based on the aerials and the Rossmor building, the shopping center would have existed where Saddleback Medical is. Looks like the shopping center was torn down to accomodate expansion.

  9. When Alpha Beta came to Phoenix in the 70s, they built a variation of this design, only with a mansard roof and more wood framing. And the red AB tiles.

  10. Chris - I think the address that Jeff gave is probably the right one. I'm assuming it came from an Alpha Beta ad or some other company source. And thanks for all the great historical resources you've made available to us!

    Charles - I've seen the sign on your Flickr page - what a great find, and it looks exactly like the one pictured here! I agree the carts are one of the best aspects of the photo.

    McHunter78 - I think you may have been commenting in regard to my previous response to Jeff. Most major medical centers have undergone huge expansion in the last 20 years or so, especially those near such a heavy concentration of senior citizens as this one was. The pockets for that sort of thing are usually extremely deep.

    One other aspect that I didn't mention was the fact that the AB store was only 22,500 square feet. 10-15 years later many stores were easily averaging 30-40,000 square feet. So it looked modern, but was undersized by later standards. They probably could have expanded it by taking over the space of the adjacent small stores, but of course AB went through a host of changes and eventual demise in the 80' and 90's that could have factored in.

    Jamcool - I've seen pictures of the Phoenix stores, and they're the first thing that came to mind when I saw this picture.

  11. The only thing is I couldn't find it on the Historic Aerial map from 1972. The previous one before this is from the 1940's, when this area was farm lands. I really doubt they'd open a market and tear it down in a couple years.

    The Vons is seen in the 1972 aerial but it looks to be just being built at the time, probably a Safeway.

    Ill see what else I can find.

  12. What a cool Standrad gas station!

  13. I am also thinking that gas station no longer exists. I see CIA on the sign at the very left. This would place it off either Valecia or Alicia. I dont see a gas station anymore on Paseo De Valencia (it could be where the Walgreen shack is today)

  14. Living most of my life in Orange County. These pictures bring back some great memories. Great post, great Blog.

  15. I have found out that this store was located where the Laguna Hills Mall is. It looks to be located where the Nordstrom Rack store is now, making the original store long torn down. There is no original part of the center left.

  16. Jeff - I agree. After taking another look at the Historic Aerials photos it the exact same site with a different building. It's interesting that the AB's Spanish tile roof was a true full roof instead of just a mansard front on a flat roofed building. Very classy, for sure. On Live Local, you can see that the Nordstrom Rack used to be a WOW store (Tower Records/Good Guys combo). Thanks for your help in figuring this one out!

    Didi - I agree, total class.

    Richard - Thanks so much once again. Must have been an incredible place to grow up!

  17. "On Live Local, you can see that the Nordstrom Rack used to be a WOW store (Tower Records/Good Guys combo). "

    And before that, it was a Circuit City.

    I recall this Alpha Beta as if it was yesterday. It sat in the middle of a huge field that would someday be the Laguna Hills Mall. It actually looked lonely sitting there for the 4 or so years until they broke ground for other commercial development.

  18. Captain - A great memory, thanks for sharing that! On a similar note, the Chevron photo shows the wide open spaces in the background, which of course were filled in in short order. Sounds like the AB was the calm before the Laguna Hills Mall storm.

  19. i believe that this alpha beta is featured in a chase scene in CHIPS season two.

  20. It really is amazing to see this Alpha Beta in Laguna Hills. It looks completely contemporary.
    Much of the early pictures of Mission Viejo Ca(right across from Laguna Hills) when they started development in 1966 look modern and contemporary. It's the cars that look out of place.

    Here is an example .. Mission Viejo 1967 La Paz Road

    And Mission Viejo 1971

    I think Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills, and the other surrounding cities of Saddleback Valley were more contemporary looking with their modern-spanish style. I think that goes for their grocery stores and houses and gas stations etc.

  21. We used to call this place "Seizure World." I roller-skated just down the street at Laguna Hills Skate Palace. Slow-skated to an Alice Cooper song... "You and Me," I think.

  22. not every station was involved in a gas war...I have been watching the first season of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE on DVD, and there is an episode not set in a foreign country but in Los Angeles at the time--1966.

    There is a scene showing a Standard station selling gas at six cents a gallon higher than this Laguna Hills location...32.9 and 35.9.

    That's because it had no immediate competition, at the corner of Yucca Street and North Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood (I was able to figure out the location via Mapquest, using the Capitol Record tower seen in the background as reference point).