Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ralphs Westwood Through the Years

Here’s a collection of views, in reverse chronological order (more or less), of what is arguably the most famous early Ralphs store, no doubt due in part to the happy fact that the building still stands in beautiful condition. This of course is the Westwood Village Ralphs, a Russell Colllins-designed masterpiece, which opened on November 21, 1929 at the corner of Westwood Blvd. and Lindbrook Drive. Coincidentally, the (much more conventional looking) Safeway opened down the street the same week.

Westwood Village, whose origin dates to 1925, is located in west Los Angeles, adjacent to the UCLA campus. Westwood was originally developed by brothers Ed and Harold Janss, who saw the potential for developing an upscale retail “village” to augment UCLA. The Janss Investment Corporation initially mandated a Mediterranean style architectural design for all Westwood Village structures, though this seemed to quickly morph into a blend of “Mediterranean/Spanish/Art Deco/whatever you want to call it”. Westwood Village has long been a subject of enthusiastic study in the architectural community, and many developments throughout America in the decades since have tried to emulate the “Westwood feel”.

The Ralphs supermarket was just one of many classic buildings in the Westwood area. Shown in a couple of the photos is the Bank of America branch, a Moroccan-domed structure which was originally the Janss office until they sold it to the bank in 1954. Also visible is the uniquely beautiful Westwood Sears, across the street from Ralphs. The changing appearance of the Standard Oil of California (Chevron) station can be clearly seen as well. Off in the distance in the second and third photos is the tower of the Fox Westwood Village theatre, which opened about a year and a half after the Ralphs store, and then as now has been an in-demand site for major Hollywood movie premieres and preview screenings. Despite the passage of time, the loss of some classic buildings, and the springing up of high-rises all around it, Westwood Village has managed to retain a considerable amount of its charm.

The Westwood Ralphs closed in the mid-1960’s and has since housed a number of different businesses, including a “Bratskeller” café, popular with UCLA students from the late 60’s through the 80’s. The principal tenants now are Peet’s Coffee and Tea (the cylindrical portion, or “cookie jar” as referred to in a 60’s L.A. Times article) and the Mann Festival Theatre in the arcaded section to the right. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Ralphs returned to Westwood in 2001 when it moved into another classic structure, the former Bullock’s department store which was originally opened in 1932.

The first four photos are postcard views, ranging from the mid-50’s back to the mid-30’s, and come to us courtesy of Aaron from his site Yesterday L.A., a fantastic collection of vintage postcards of the Greater Los Angeles area –well worth seeing if you haven’t already. Photos 5 through 8 are from the Los Angeles Public Library, and again I extend my thanks for their use. Photo number five is from 1940, photographer unknown. Number six, also from 1940, was taken by Herman Schultheis. The seventh photo was taken by no less than Ansel Adams, as part of a photo shoot for a 1941 Fortune magazine article. (I mean, really, why photograph mountain ranges and national parks when these great stores were available as motifs? I’m kidding.) The last photo, from the LAPL’s Security Pacific National Bank collection, photographer unknown, is in some ways the most interesting of all. Taken from a point further back than the others, looking north from south Wilshire Boulevard, you can see the Ralphs store and the tower of the A&P store to the right. The Westwood A&P was another great classic, designed by Allen Siple and opened in 1932. It was torn down in the late 60’s after A&P pulled out of the area. To the left are four magnificent 150 foot tall deco towers, from gas station competitors who were clearly not about to let themselves be outdone by the others – Richfield (predecessor to Arco), Associated (Flying A), Union 76 and Standard Oil (Chevron). These neon-glazed towers were lit at night and could be seen from many miles away. Oh, Southern California in the 1930’s! Where’s a flux capacitor when you need one?


  1. The entire retail landscape of Westwood is an architectural gem.
    Sears, A&P, and Ralphs all had stores which stood hood shoulders above the crowd. The Westwood A&P would be my favorite A&P if it still stood, so I have to vote for the French Quarter Rouse's in old New Orleans.

    Westwood is what a lifestyle center should be. No enclosed mall or lifestyle evokes the awe of Westwood.

  2. Ken - No doubt about it. I think the Westwood idea would be a fantastic template for today's lifestyle centers.

    I think I've seen pictures of the Rouse's store, but now I'm curious and will have to try and check it out. Thanks.

  3. What an amazing set of photos, yet again!

  4. The Rouse's store is no bigger than a convenience store, but has an excellent selection for its size. The main attraction for me was the wrought iron. It is probably the oldest continuously operating supermarket in the US today. There is no doubt the Westwood A&P and Ralphs are far larger stores.

  5. Ken - I didn't realize that the Rouse's store was the famous French Quarter A&P. I knew that A&P had their New Orleans division on the block but haven't been following the story lately. That store is definitely one of the greats!

  6. I was just wandering around Westwood yesterday . I took pictures of the Ralph's location! I was surprised that movie theatre has survived. Nice blog-I'll be back!

  7. Julie - Thanks, and I'm a fan of your photos! Looking forward to seeing the Ralphs bldg pics it you get a chance to post them.