Imagining Tomorrow

Lakewood Center.jpg

Above: Lakewood Center Concept (1949)
A. C. Martin

Lakewood Center in 1950 was a risky idea that Joe Eichenbaum had a hard time selling to national retail chains. Eichenbaum had been given the job by Lakewood's three developers - Louis Boyar, Ben Weingart, and S. Mark Taper.

It wasn't until the May Company committed in 1949 to open a 330,000-square-foot store in the middle of 265 acres of former lima bean fields that the concept of Lakewood Center became more than the sketches Eichenbaum put up around his office.

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Mall Interior (concept and in 1955)
A. C. Martin
Dime Store.jpg

Imagining something as new as a regional shopping center - marooned among 17,000 small houses and miles from anything else - began with the colorful, hopeful illustrations that Eichenbaum showed to skeptical representatives of shoe store chains, credit jewelers, and five-and-dimes. The renderings projected the unbuilt Lakewood Center into a watercolor future of blue skies, brisk modernity, and working-class desire.

A. C. Martin, Architects and Engineers (as the firm was called then) planned the new shopping center as a north/south street of attached storefronts anchored by a three-story May Company building at the south end and a two-story Butler Bros. store at the north. Other buildings - markets, a garden center, a bowling alley, the Hody's restaurant, and a post office - took up detached positions in Lakewood Center's vast parking lot.

Sav-On Drugs (concept and in 1951)
A. C. Martin
SAv-On.jpg

The original mall was small. Eichenbaum's sales pitch was slow to persuade conservative retailers who were more comfortable with Main Street merchandising. When the first stores in Lakewood Center opened in 1951 and 1952 - Butler Bros. and then the May Company - only a single row of additional shops connected the two department stores. A Woolworths and a Sav-On Drugs occupied most of the space. Shoe stores, dress shops, and jewelers filled the spaces in between.

Hody's Family Restaurant (concept and under constructionin 1951)
Wayne McAllister
McAllister.jpg

It took only a few months to show the success of Lakewood Center. A second row of "in-line" shops was begun to face the Woolworths and Sav-On. But it still took years before the mall was extended from the May Company south to a third anchor department store - a Penny's. By then, the idea of regional shopping center was beginning to evolve in other directions. What had been risky and new in 1951 was commonplace - even a little retrograde - by 1961.

But at the beginning, when unbuilt Lakewood Center was prime real estate for the new, architects like Wayne McAllister and A. C. Martin imagined an architecture stripped of nostalgia, boldly gestural, and confidently modern for the suburb that called itself "tomorrow's city."

Mall Exterior (concept and in 1960)
A. C Martin
Malls.jpg

(The photographs of architectural renderings in this post are from the author's collection. They were taken by Rothschild Photography, probably for use in news stories about Lakewood Center, and are only in black and white.)

Lakewood Recreation Center(unbuilt)
A. C. Marin
Rec Center.jpg

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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