Sunday, September 16, 2007

Safeway's Windmill?

This photo (from 1963, location unknown) is intriguing to me for a couple of reasons – first, because it shows the “March of Progress” – a classic 50’s Safeway about to realize its destiny as a parking lot for the brand-new, gleaming Safeway/Super S store seen under construction in the background. On the new store, the plastic insert for the round, red “S” logo isn’t even installed yet!

Secondly, because of the famous Van de Kamp’s windmill sign on the pylon of the older store. Out of the many vintage Safeway photos I’ve seen, this is a first. As anyone who grew up in pre-1970 Southern California knows, the windmill signs were a fixture (literally) of grocery store facades all over the region. Vons, Thriftimart, Market Basket, A & P (before they cleared out of L.A. in the early 60’s), Food Giant and many others all featured Van de Kamp’s bakery departments and thus sported the familiar sign. In the couple of vintage film clips I’ve seen of them, the windmill blades really did turn, though I’m not sure if it was purely from the wind or with the assistance of a small electric motor.

I’ve always assumed that Safeway did their own baking for their stores. If someone knows the backstory on this, please let us know!
(Thanks to the sharp-eyed PFS reader who identified this store's location - at the corner of 3rd and Vermont in L.A. - now a Vons.)


  1. Jeez. Love this blog...I can't tell if you worship supermarkets or Safeway exclusively...but in "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" (Peter Sellers 1967) there's a great shot of Safeway instant coffee cans in his cabinet that his mother brings every time she comes over!

  2. Well, actually I don't worship either one... Obviously I do like 'em, though. If I had to pick a personal favorite, it would be the Jewel Stores in Chicago, where I grew up - mostly a sentimental decision.

    You have to admire Safeway as being tremendously influential, and as such, I've wanted to give a more in-depth look at them. The best of their stores (early sixties, in my book) would look completely contemporary today.I have ideas bouncing around for two more Safeway posts before moving on to some East Coast chains.

    I'll have to check out "Alice B. Toklas". My favorite Sellers movie of the ones I've seen is "The Mouse That Roared".

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. I cannot decide which Safeway store I like more: the old art deco-ish one or the brand new modernish one. Don't make me choose!

  4. Strangely enough I recogonize this location because of the church behind the old store. This is the Safeway (now Vons and remodeled numerous times since) at the corner of 3rd & Vermont in Los Angeles.

    Amazing photo. I had no idea that there was ever an older store in what is now the parking lot of the current store. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for identifying this and updating us! Only a bit of the church is shown so that's even more amazing...thanks again!

  6. Too bad Van de Kamp's is exclusive to Ralphs' now, but at least it's still a Southern California exclusive. Since many Ralphs were former Market Baskets, Alpha Betas, Hughes, Viva, Boys and ABC markets, it's fitting that they inherited the Van de Kamp's legacy.

  7. One aspect of Van de Kamp's that has always amazed me is the fact that they weren't exclusive to any one chain. Because the branding was so high-profile (almost co-branded with the store names themselves because of the prominent signs) I would have thought that one of the chains would have paid a premium for the exclusive or just bought them out.

    Or maybe invented their own "Dutch-sounding" bakery private label to compete.

    Thanks for the comment!

  8. Great blog - also saw you on flickr. I grew up in So Cal in the 60s and 70s and can tell you that those blue Van de Kamp windmills were electric, they turned day and night, and they were lined in neon. It would be fun to have one now. And, there was a chain of Van de Kamps coffee shops in LA and OC that were built to look like windmills with life-size, turning windmill blades also lined in blue neon. Many of them still exist, bladeless, and reincarnated as mom-n-pop coffee shops or norms

  9. Hungry i - Thanks for the kind words. I agree that a Van de Kamp's windmill would be the ultimate rec room accessory. I've seen a couple of photos of vintage Van deKamp's stores and one 1930's Vons store that appeared to have a full size windmill on the corner of the store.

  10. I came across this photo (and blog) whilst reminiscing, as in 1986 I rented for 3 or 4 months in an apartment block (Oakwood Apartments?) just behind where the OLD Safeway was, and so did most of my grocery shopping in the NEW Safeway. It was indeed (as an Anonymous poster has said) on 3rd and Vermont in Los Angeles.

    Anyway, I got to know (as you do) one of the checkout clerks in there who had a partially disabled arm. I later noticed that he wasn't there anymore so asked another clerk if he was ok. It turned out that the store had been robbed a few days previously, and because this bloke had been a bit slow in opening his till the two robbers had shot the poor guy dead!

    A very sobering event at the time for me as a UK visitor - (though guns are becoming increasingly common in UK crime these days).

  11. Anonymous - A very sobering story, I agree. Unfortunately, that type of occurrence (the vulnerability of retail employees to robbery and gun violence) has been a sad fact of life here for ages.

  12. We lived on Sepulveda Blvd, six doors down from the Torrance Thriftymart. My aunt was a Van De Kamp's "Lady," as we called them, and I often came across her pulling up in her Impala to load up the V De K's shelves.

    Since it was more economical to bake, our mom never bought cookies. I often wandered over to my cousin's house - about 2 miles - after school, just to check and see if they had those incredible pecan/molasses cookies.

    Really miss their baked goods, and have tried (unsuccessfully) to recreate those cookies and the salt-rising bread, which smelled like Limburger cheese while toasting, but was amazing.

    Sweet blog!