by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As we close out this Yuletide season’s “The Evolution of Christmas” series with this fourth post, we’ve seen the transformation for how retailers have advertised their holiday goods in Los Angeles newspapers from 1874, 1898, and 1914. Now, we take a look at ads from the Los Angeles Times and its edition of 21 December 1925.
At the time, the city and region was in the middle of yet another enormous boom of development with the population leaping by bounds, the economy diversifying and growing mightily, and retail offerings continuing to offer consumers greater choices for their holiday shopping.
There were some long-standing stores advertising in the paper, including the Coulter Dry Goods Company, including clothing, accessories, home goods and much more and Bullock’s, which offered much the same, but also sold furniture, appliances, and others that were not shown in the Coulter ad.
Here, however, we feature businesses not seen in the previous posts and which reflected the greater diversity of retail options for shoppers. Many of the ads were oriented by gender. For example, there was Florsheim Shoe Stores, of which there were three in the city and one in Pasadena, and which highlighted its “Moraine,” a $10 shoe for men to wear in the evenings and which was said to be “as fashionable as a church wedding.”
Halbriter’s, a men’s clothing store on Olive south of 6th (south and west of where the shopping district was concentrated a decade before), made no secret of its target audience when, under a festive banner reading “Gifts for the Man,” it noted
Within a shop that serves a clientele that is recognized for its ability and taste to discern the finer things of life, you are assured of selecting only Gifts for the Man as will find ready appreciation.
Having noted that its goods were those that were “authentic and proper,” the store hastened to add that its prices were not more than found “for the mediocre offerings of the Holiday season.”
Another male-oriented ad was for the New York Hat Stores, of which there were eight locations in the center of the city, as well as in Pasadena, Long Beach and Hollywood, while a new location opened just west of downtown.
Mullen and Bluett was a very popular men’s clothier and its ad listed a wide variety of items from shirts to sweaters to neckwear to pajamas, but what set it apart from the others in the paper was the use of font for the text and the striking image of a starlit winter scene that has an Art Deco look to it.
While the Coulter’s and Bullock’s ads were definitely oriented more toward women in their listing of articles, the Vogue Company at Broadway and Eighth (again, more southward than found in the 1914 ads), the gimmick was to offer “a special service to assist men in selecting—for women.” A male shopper was to meet “the man at the door” who would lead the visitor to various departments and, with the aid of “intelligent salespeople” would help buy presents for “mother, wife, daughter, sister, sweetheart.” The “ideal Christmas gift” was Kayser Hosiery, of which “no woman can have ‘too many.'”
Specific to children, Bedell’s, at the corner of Broadway and Sixth, promoted “Charlie Chaplin Handkerchief Dolls,” which, for 79 cents, consisted of “five colored handkerchiefs embroidered with characteristic poses of the well-known star,” whose latest blockbuster was The Gold Rush. The store claimed that this novelty “solves the gift problem for the children.” Maskey’s candy shop, on 7th near Hope, promoted its special Christmas mix for kids at 60 cents a pound.
What was not found in the 1874, 1898, and 1914 newspapers were a couple of specialty holiday ads located in the 1925 Times issue. One was for the A.G. Spaulding & Bros. sporting goods company, which remains a major supplier today. The ad for the firm, with its store at Spring south of 4th, has a Christmas tree under and in front of which are a range of sporting goods. Listed in the ad are items for such sports as golf, basketball, tennis, baseball, and football.
Paul G. Hoffman, one of the most successful car dealers in a city that embraced the automobile as no other American metropolis did, had a full-page ad stating that “The Keys to Happiness” consisted of providing the entire family with “their HAPPIEST Christmas” with the keys to a Studebaker Big Six, a powerful sedan that offered the seventh highest level of horsepower of any vehicle, though the next highest in power was twice the cost of the $2,600 Big Six. According to an online inflation calculator, that would be about $38,000 in 2019 dollars.
The Arnold Ross Company, located on 7th between Hill and Olive, specialized in leather goods, particularly luggage, so it featured products for women and men, with the former being a fitted case, including a separate toilet set holder, for $25, while for the latter a traveling bag was offered at $15.
Also highly specialized was the Eugene Dietzgen Company, who made supplies for draftsmen and engineers at its location on Hill between 8th and 9th and offered “a useful practical gift” with a “drawing outfit” in five Christmas styles priced from $3-15.
The Willcox and Gibbs Sewing Machine Company, situated at the corner of 7th and Grand, offered a “gift that will thrill, satisfy and serve” women with its electric machine that guaranteed that “sewing [was] made a pleasure.” The machine was said to be so simple to use that “it almost runs itself” and could be used by a novice after a few lessons.
While there were some chain stores pointed out in the post with the 1914 ads, the phenomenon continued to grow into the following decade. The Times had some ads from grocery chains that were among the most aggressive in developing that system. The oldest of these was Ralphs, which opened in Los Angeles in 1873 and remains with us today. While the store offered the expected food items (and emphasized Christmas nuts of several types), there are some surprises, including Christmas trees and then asked “what could make a nicer gift than an auto tire[?]” with its offering of three listed kinds.
Safeway, denoted “Santa’s able assistant” was more traditional in its listings, which included items for salads and cocktails, nuts, mixed candy and popcorn, fruit and more, though its inclusion of toy brooms is a bit out of place. A side panel asked “are your gift plans all made?” and inquired if anyone was inadvertently overlooked whose holiday “might be made happier through the medium of some little token of your thoughtfulness.”
Then came an extraordinary statement, in which the store observed that
in this community—there must be many whose Christmas day will not be particularly joyous; gentle folk, poor in purse,—rich in pride. You may know of some—that you will be sorry to have overlooked.
The next portion of the panel proceeded to play up “the big Christmas dinner” and listed all the items available at Safeway to make that meal the complete. The next section implored shoppers to not forget the floor wax for before and after dinner, after which were others about Libby’s plum pudding and Best Foods shortening. It is certainly a disparate grouping!
A massive chain across the United States in the 1920s was Piggly Wiggly, which began in Nashville in 1916 and offered franchises. Its self-service system was highly influential and the chain grew to over 2,660 stores at its peak during the early years of the Great Depression. Today, there are about 600 stores operating in seventeen states, but the chain left our region many years ago.
The Piggly Wiggly ad in the Times had an image of a family of nine at the dinner table and the caption “Around the Festive Board” is followed by a statement about the hungry family members waiting to enjoy “mother’s Christmas Feast” including items from the store’s “complete list of the finest of foods for the Holiday Dinner.” Listed articles include those found at many homes for the Christmas day meal and did not include tires!
Finally, there are some interesting items from the issue unrelated to advertisements worth a brief mention. For example, though the Los Angeles County Forester’s office instituted an order that wild holly not be picked from local forests because the practice denuded the plant from the mountain and hills of the area, it did not apply this restriction to mistletoe, of which there was plenty for the picking. An accompanying photo showed Miss Sadie Prod holding up a sprig (and, evidently, prodding some young man to approach her for the requisite smooch!)
Another cute little holiday piece concerned the appearance of Santa and his reindeer at Exposition Park the previous day, but also featured a lengthy explanation of the event by none other than Prancer, the ranking member of the reindeer corps. He made his trenchant observations of the interaction of his boss with the youngsters in attendance, including a little one whose desired present was an egg-beater and another who wanted a “fire injun.”
Finally, there is an interesting photograph that accompanied an article about a program by the Times Junior Club for less fortunate disabled and orphaned children and which shows Eve Shaw as Santa (how often did women portray Santa in public?) and Irwin Tittle as a brown bear, who, apparently, was quite well known locally for his tumbling skills and soft-shoe dancing prowess. Tittle’s brother, Herman, portrayed a “sausage dog,” presumably a dachshund, who sang and danced.
While it is highly unlikely that any of us will have a Christmas this year featuring dancing brown bears and dachshunds, most of us will have holiday celebrations that will relate in some way to at least some of the ads highlighted in this post.
From all of us at the Homestead, we wish you and yours the most joyous of holidays and check back with us on the 26th for the next post on the Homestead’s blog.