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My husband and I are a young, growing, Christian, military family. My husband is a Captain in The United States Marine Corps. I am a former Elementary school teacher. We are first time parents to a beautiful little two year old boy, with twin boys on the way! I am a stay at home Marine wife, who loves to bake, cook, sew and craft! I enjoy being a Domestic Engineer. The purpose of this blog is to document the story of our life and adventures as they take place.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Day At Daddy's School ... Bullocks Wilshire Visit

Southwestern Law School
A few weeks back on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, my husband took my parents, the kids and me, on a little tour of his law School, Southwestern! We had the best time. Rich said that he was especially excited to take my mom on a tour of the historic old building known as The Bullocks Wilshire building, ( which is now the home of Southwestern Law School),  because of the fond memories my mother has of shopping with her mother at the Old Bullocks Wilshire department store when she was just a little girl.

If you grew-up in Los Angeles or in one of the surrounding suburbs in the 1950's, then you might remember shopping trips to the Bullocks-Wilshire department store in Los Angeles.
My mother has such beautiful memories as a little girl of getting all dressed-up in her Sunday best with her mother and riding the bus to this gorgeous department store!
I can picture it now, I am sure my mother wore a red Pendelton coat with black shiny Mary Jane shoes and frilly little white socks. My grandmother probably wore a beautiful powder blue suit with a pillbox hat and dainty white gloves... or at lease that is how I picture it in my imagination! :)
I wish we still dressed this way, classic and timeless.
Holiday Shopping, riding in the backseat of the car - c. 1952
I have been told that if you wanted the latest fashions of the day, you didn't need to visit Paris or New York, you could simply head over to Bullocks-Wilshire and visit Irene.
Here is a little side story I found about a designer named Irene,
Once upon a time, there was an amazing designer who lived in Los Angeles. Her name was Irene Lentz-Gibbons. British Vogue called Irene's designs "Californian elegance." Way before New York Fashion Week, Irene held her fashion events at the beautiful art deco department store, Bullocks Wilshire. She also designed fashions for the store and privately labeled them. From 1935 to the mid 1940s, American designer Irene Lentz-Gibbons had her own salon in the midst of this retail Utopia. You didn't need to go to Paris or New York to get the latest fashions, you could simply head to Bullocks-Wilshire and visit Irene.

Pictured: Irene and her assistant in her salon at Bullocks-Wilshire rehearsing models (photo: Bullock's archives).

She was the first designer with a salon installed in a department store. But this was no ordinary department store. Bullocks-Wilshire was known as the epitome of luxury and style. America had not yet found its way out of the Great Depression, yet there was still a market for the exquisite designs of Irene. Movie stars flocked to her. Dolores Del Rio, Vivian Leigh, Greer Garson, Ginger Rogers and the wealthy of Los Angeles all wore Irene. Even studio secretaries desired a suit by Irene. Her tailored suits retailed from $400.00 to $700.00 back in the 1930s at Bullocks. The "Irene" suits were carefully constructed to show off the thinnest point on any woman, the waist. Buttons were hand selected by the designer. Irene would mix buttons of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes there would be a large ornate button at the top of a suit, followed by a string of smaller buttons. Her evening wear featured beading, black lace and sometimes large bows on the side of the garment or tied at the back. Her version of the little black dress was a revelation, with carefully placed tucks , darts and pleats to streamline the waist and the bust. She really contoured her designs to fit a woman's shape and curves. Below is one of her original Bullock's dresses with matching coat from the collection of Greg LaVoi. The sculptured neckline is amazing.

Pictured: An original Irene for Bullocks-Wilshire, from the collection of Greg LaVoi, (photo: M. Hall)

If you went to the Irene salon at Bullocks Wilshire, you could expect to receive very personal service from the designer. Service was intrinsic in the price tag of an original Irene from Bulllocks-Wilshire. Irene was present in the salon along with a tailor and a "cutter." Each Irene garment could be fitted to the prospective buyer. If a customer decided to purchase an original "Irene," then the designer herself would go to woman's shoes and jewelery to pick out the right shoes and jewelry to go with your "Irene." Models strolled through Bullocks-Wilshire in original "Irenes" for customers to peruse.

Pictured: An original Irene suit jacket for Bullock's Wilshire, from the collection of Greg LaVoi., (photo: M. Hall)


Irene left Bullocks-Wilshire to become executive designer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. She designed costumes for over fifty films. Later, she sold an "Irene" line at New York's Bergdorf Goodman, Chicago's Marshall Field and Dallas' Neiman-Marcus. Eventually, those lines perished as did the Bullocks-Wilshire store. The store closed in 1992. Today, the Irene salon still lives on as part of the Southwestern Law School. When I took the tour of Bullocks- Wilshire, sponsored by the law school this week, I was pleased to see the Irene salon almost exactly as the designer had left it. Her sketches were hanging on the walls along with a few plaques commemorating her designs. You can almost hear the footsteps of a frequent visitor to Bullocks, Gary Cooper, bounding up the stairs into the salon to visit his special friend, Hollywood's hottest designer, Irene Lentz.

Pictured: The Irene salon today, as part of the Bullocks Wilshire building at the Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, CA (photo: M. Hall)


Today, Irene's fashions still play a part in Hollywood productions. Her suits are worn by Kyra Sedgewick on TNT's The Closer. Costume designer Greg LaVoi uses many of Irene's designs on the show from Bullocks Wilshire. When Irene died in 1962, she may have felt that Hollywood had forgotten her. Her old friend Doris Day bought her back to work to design the costumes for the film Midnight Lace. For that film, she was nominated for an Oscar. But it was the first film she had worked on in 10 years. How pleased I think she would be to see Southwestern Law School preserving her salon and The Closer's Brenda wearing her beautiful suits. Style never dies. Especially when it has an Irene label on it.
 Here is a brief history on Bullocks Wilshire ...

History of Bullocks Wilshire

Bullocks Wilshire tower at dusk   Steeped in the glamour of another era's rich and famous, the Bullocks Wilshire building is a stunning, masterly crafted Art Deco treasure that occupies a special place in Los Angeles history.
It was conceived by business partners John G. Bullock and P.G. Winnett to house the upscale Bullocks Wilshire Department Store. But while the building’s function was an ordinary one, its creators had grand ambitions for its design. After visiting the 1925 Exposition of Decorative and Modern Arts in Paris, where the art deco, or "moderne," style was introduced, Winnett and architect Donald Parkinson agreed to use this new aesthetic as the inspiration for the department store. When it opened in 1929, the building was one of the first Art Deco structures built in the United States.
Parkinson - who, along with his son John, went on to design some of Los Angeles' leading landmarks, including Union Station and City Hall - created an elegant five-story structure that, even today, stands out in the skyline. The gleaming edifice was constructed with terra cotta-clad reinforced concrete and accented with green verdigris copper. While building codes at the time sought to cap structures at 150 feet, the architects found a loophole enabling them to erect the Bullocks Wilshire building at 241 feet.
Like the German Bauhaus School of Design, Art Deco combines function and beauty, and embraces contrasts among geometric shapes, vibrant colors, and exotic materials. Abstractions from nature combine with forms common to machinery. Most of all, Art Deco celebrates the modern age. In the 1920's mass production techniques, technology, and new modes of travel were rapidly changing the way people lived, and they influenced Art Deco design. This celebration of the modern age greets visitors arriving at the Bullocks Wilshire entrance where one can admire the magnificent dry fresco, The Spirit of Transportation. Painted by Herman Sachs, the Spirit of Transportation celebrates all modes of transportation common to the era except the car: flight, rail, ocean liner, and the great dirigibles.
Bullocks Wilshire Tea Room - 1929
The Tea Room - 1929
The Bullocks Wilshire building, and its beautifully appointed penthouse Tea Room, regularly drew Hollywood elite such as John Wayne, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable and Mae West, as well as residents of the wealthy surrounding communities of Hancock Park, Windsor Square and Fremont Place. This gilded clientele helped the store survive the Great Depression, which began a month after its opening - a grand affair that drew 300,000 people.
For more than 60 years, the name Bullocks Wilshire was synonymous with elegance and style. However, over the years, many of the building's prized architectural features were covered or removed. In 1969, local officials recognized the structure’s unique place in architectural and civic history by naming it a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. Nine years later, it took its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Bullock's Wilshire was the showpiece, the jewel in the crown, the "cathedral of commerce" of the Bullock's department store chain. Opened in 1929, this green copper-accented, art deco wonder was an innovative masterpiece, both inside and out. Built in the shape of a grand church, the store was the first to cater to automobile culture. Guests drove through a wrought iron gate into a painted porte-cochere, where valets whisked their cars away to be parked. One particularly eccentric customer, legendary entertainer Mae West, preferred to shop from her car, causing busy shop girls to run to and fro with big-busted dresses and long minks.

Once a lady or gentleman stepped into the store, they were greeted with an elegance and simplicity rarely seen on the West Coast. The layout was closed, with each department its own little boutique. Live models swayed around the Louis XIV salon in designer dresses, high rolling Hollywood players smoked cigars while being presented with shirts in Jo Bullock's wood-paneled private suite, and harried mothers could drop off their children in the crib-filled nursery before peeking into a room devoted solely to the creations of Coco Chanel, or indulging in a spritz of a new fragrance in the mirrored "Hall of Perfume."
A tea room menu cover, courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
A tea room menu cover, courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
On the fifth floor all these disparate shoppers met in the famous tea room. Decorated in soothing Southwestern tones of pale green, salmon, gray and blue, and accented with cactus-etched copper grating, the large tea room featured stunning views of the Hollywood Hills and a sleek Bauhaus-inspired design. Private dining rooms -- including the Salle Moderne with its lacquered paintings of desert animals -- a confectionery, and sitting areas radiated off the main room.

A Miss Larson oversaw the tea room, and made sure it lived up to the "Bullock's ideal" of excellence in service and presentation. The menu was light and refreshing, perfect for active shoppers and a welcome respite from heavy mid-century food. It featured such tea-time fare as finger sandwiches, pecan rolls, an assortment of fresh bread, including orange, date and nut, and cheese, and its famous Cantonese chicken salad with strawberry dressing. For dessert, fluffy coconut cream pie was a specialty, as was French chocolate layer cake, and a cream cheese ring with assorted fruit.
For the numerous figure-conscious Hollywood stars who frequented the tea room, including Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Clarke Gable, Carole Lombard and John Wayne, there was also a "streamline menu." A veggie platter consisted of grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, string beans, asparagus, squash and celery. On Tuesdays, for only $1.25, there was a fashion luncheon where ladies could nibble all these healthful goodies while viewing models wearing the latest fashions.

Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Photo courtesy The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Bullock's grandeur slowly faded with the decline of its Wilshire neighborhood and the emergence of competing stores. Maitre d' Humberto Lara kept the spirit of service and grace alive in the tea room for the older society ladies who continued to lunch here even as the food (which one '90s visitor called "unseasoned, tasteless and meager") served and the etiquette observed went out of fashion. The store was badly damaged during the 1992 riots and finally closed in 1993, taking it with it a whole style of commerce and community.

Unlike many of these L.A. stories of faded glamour, Bullock's Wilshire has had a surprisingly satisfying second act. It was bought by Southwestern Law School, which has been careful and diligent in its preservation efforts. The tea room is now used as a study hall, can be rented for private events and is opened to the public on the school's annual tea and tour day, which takes place during summer break. And the famed coconut cream pie still exists --

 I think I will most definitely have to track down the recipe of this famous Coconut Cream Pie!!!

Business Declines, Southwestern Steps In
Eventually, business at Bullocks Wilshire took a downfall, as malls moved into suburbia, shopping habits and merchandising changed, and high-end stores opened farther west. In the 1980s, after a dispute among its directors, the store was sold to Federated Department Stores. Macy's later purchased the business, but in 1993 the company filed for bankruptcy. The store was closed permanently, marking the end of an era and generating serious concern for the future of one of the city's most beautiful and beloved buildings.
Southwestern's Westmoreland and Bullocks Wilshire Buildings
That changed in 1994 when Southwestern purchased the building in bankruptcy proceedings. Founded in 1911, Southwestern had been housed in a structure across the street from the Bullocks Wilshire since the mid-1970's. While it was in great need of additional space to accommodate its burgeoning law library and other facilities, the law school had not initially intended to buy the property. Plans were in the works to construct an addition to the existing building, and finances had already been set aside. Fortunately, development had not yet begun when the Bullocks Wilshire became available, and Southwestern acquired the property.
Rebirth of a Treasure
Over the next ten years, Southwestern meticulously restored the Bullocks Wilshire building to its original luster and design. Drawing from original plans, archival photos, and other historic documents, the law school refurbished or reproduced the property's distinctive colors, decor and other details, while adapting the building to serve as a dynamic academic facility.

Southwestern's 1997 Gala Celebration
In October, 1997, a black-tie gala was held to celebrate the opening of Southwestern's exquisite, 83,000-square-foot law library in the Bullocks Wilshire building. Members of the California Supreme Court, federal courts and other distinguished judicial officers, elected officials, and prominent members of the legal and business communities were among those in attendance.

Southwestern's 2004 Gala
The next several years saw the conversion of the Tea Room into a dining and gathering area, and the construction of new conference and seminar rooms, and faculty and administrative offices. A second gala was held in October, 2004 to celebrate the opening of the Julian C. Dixon Courtroom and Advocacy Center, which marked the completion of the Bullocks Wilshire building’s $29 million renovation.
Southwestern has received numerous awards for its sensitive restoration and adaptive reuse of the structure, including the 2005 President's Award from the Los Angeles Conservancy, 2000 National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Governor's Historic Preservation Award from the California Office of Historic Preservation.
Today, the Bullocks Wilshire is the heart of the Southwestern campus - a shining example of the school’s thoughtful and determined effort to raise the bar for legal education.

A few photos from our day at Southwestern Law School ...

Above is a photo of my two guys! Robbie is so proud of his Daddy!

My twinies!


Gigi and Robbie waiting to our the school on the cool old elevators.

The view of Downtown LA from the historic Tea Room.

Below is a small photo of a study area at the school's library.
The long hallway previously the perfume room at Bullocks Wilshire.
Even the bathroom/ powder room was beautiful!
I think Robbie's favorite part of the whole day was visiting the vending machines and  crawling on this cool retro couch at the school.
Huell Howser from California's Gold did an entire show on Southwestern Law School/ The Bullocks Willshire building.You can get more information here.
We had a great day!

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