by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Along with Hamburger’s and The Broadway, Bullock’s was an upper echelon department store in Los Angeles for much of the 20th century. As noted here in a recent post, John G. Bullock was hired on the fly by Arthur Letts to provide assistance as The Broadway was purchased in bankruptcy and then was built up to an enormously successful enterprise.
Bullock’s hard work in the service of Letts led to the latter helping to get the former his own store, which opened in 1907 and quickly became about as prosperous as The Broadway. There was, however, another key figure in the establishment of the store and whose history includes a notable connection to the eastern San Gabriel Valley city of Walnut and a part of the Rancho La Puente.
Percival G. Winnett (1881-1968) was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and lived with his family in Vancouver before they migrated to Los Angeles in 1896, the same year as Bullock, with the 15-year old Winnett going to work for Letts and the newly reorganized The Broadway. Winnett worked his way up to becoming manager of the men’s furnishings department and, when Letts decided to set Bullock up with the new store, Bullock asked Winnett to help him get the business established.
Married to Helen Hutton, the daughter of prominent lawyer and judge Aurelius W. Hutton (who also appears in the only known photograph of the interior of the Temple and Workman bank), Winnett was somewhat modest in giving his job title to census takers. In 1910, he stated that he was a buyer for a department store and a decade later told the enumerator he was the manager of a dry goods store.
In 1930, he did declare that he was vice-president of said dry goods store, though he’d held that position since almost the beginning. He also had a vital role, as well, in the concept for the Bullock’s Wilshire store, which opened the prior year and was an architectural sensation with its inspired Art Deco style as well as a success serving well-heeled customers, including an emphasis on the latest fashions, especially for women, in the vicinity of the store’s Miracle Mile location.
Three years later, after Bullock’s death at age 62, Winnett was elected by the company board (established in a reorganization conducted in 1927) and the Los Angeles Times noted that Bullock once said that “Winnett and I understand each other so well that it is not unusual for one of us to express in words what the other is thinking.” For his part, the new president told the paper that he felt he’d lost an older brother (they were ten years apart in age) and he recalled that the two took officers in the Lankershim Hotel at the end of 1906 and opened Bullock’s in March of the following year.
Moreover, he expressed appreciation for his boss turning over management of the operation to him, “which released him largely to the public service he loved so well,” including that reorganization which involved that assumption of the Letts estate (The Broadway’s leader having died in 1923.) While Winnett used the plural “we” in mentioning the opening of the Wilshire Boulevard location, he was to be credited with his leading efforts in that project, which initially was referred to as “Winnett’s Folly.”
Winnett remained at the helm of Bullock’s until 1950 and was chair of the board for almost another fifteen years, which included a significant expansion in the booming post-World War II period. He fought aggressively against a takeover of the company, supported by his son-in-law and company president, from Federated Stores, which was transformed by Fred Lazarus, Jr. from a local Columbus, Ohio department store to a conglomerate that, in 1929-1930, included Filene’s of Boston, Abraham and Straus and Bloomingdale’s of New York City, and later grew to include some 200 stores around the county, including, among many others, Bullock’s, which had, in 1944, acquired San Francisco-based I. Magnin.
Even with the acquisition by Federated, Winnett remained with Bullock’s and routinely went to his office, including the day he died in 1967 at age 86. As a retreat from business, Winnett purchased in September 1938, 1,800 acres of the Rowland family’s portion of Rancho La Puente and was the portion of the more than 5,000-acre Sentous ranch owned by one of three brothers, Exupere.
He kept the Sentous ranch house, built in 1890, erected another residence for his use, and expanded the barns, stables and other elements for the hunter class of purebred horses, following the example of such other nearby breeders as Michigan cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg, whose ranch is now the site of Cal Poly Pomona, and Chicago banker Albert W. Harris, whose Anazel Farm was situated in what is now Chino Hills. It has been said that the classic 1944 Elizabeth Taylor film, National Velvet, was partially filmed on the ranch, known as Rancho San Vicente, but there is no evidence located so far to support the assertion.
After about twenty years, Winnett began scaling down his operations and, with a new wave of residential and commercial development inexorably making its way west through the San Gabriel Valley, he sold 1,710 acres of his ranch in 1961, just after the incorporation of the City of Walnut, to a construction company owner for a reported $2.6 million. Three years later, Home Savings and Loan (some of you may remember these prior to a little problem with the industry back in 1987) took over this tract and announced a plan to build 10,000 houses on what had leapt in value, by 1966, to more than $15 million.
Winnett kept the remaining 80 acres and, upon his death, the property was left to Claremont Men’s College, now Claremont McKenna, Occidental College and the California Institute of Technology—he was a trustee of the first and last and had an honorary doctorate from the second—with the intention that the land could be sold for raising scholarship money. While there were long-standing efforts to create a city park there, what wound up being developed by Keith Walton on 28 acres was the Brookside Equestrian Center, which, among its activities was the headquarters of the United States Olympic Equestrian Team. The facility, however, has been closed for some years.
As for the “Furniture February” pamphlet, which covered the period from the 4th to the 29th (it was, of course, a leap year in 1924), it reflects the dramatic growth of commercialization and industrialization in Los Angeles and the nation broadly. The country’s booming economy for most of the late 19th and early 20th century involved a rapid industrial development in which techniques for mass production made the manufacturing of furniture (a major site at the time was at Grand Rapids, Michigan, while North Carolina promotes itself as the furniture capital of world these days).
Moreover, the burgeoning population of the country allowed both for a massive immigrant surge in factory work, while an increasingly sizable middle class working in white collar jobs had the income to afford mass-produced goods, such as the furniture offered by department stores like Bullock’s. For that store and Los Angeles, the early 20th century was a particularly fertile period for growth and, while there was a national depression the year Bullock’s was launched, waves of massive development books in subsequent years allowed for the store to ride along with a great deal of success.
An early page of the publication discussed the “Furniture February” concept, calling it “a happy thought!” and “perhaps the very happiest kind of a thought” because “about Homes center the happiest things we know.” Among the reasons to be joyful was because “the privilege of choosing New furniture just arrived from the centers of furniture creation” and that “the opportunities to purchase at Prices [are] considerably less than those which ordinarily apply.”
The store, situated in several buildings including over 800,000 square feet on the north side of 7th Street between Broadway and Hill with the furniture department on the seventh floor, was sure to mention that it was “not for the mansion which demands individual masterpieces” that the offering was held, nor for the home owner “interested only in lowest price.” Instead, it was “for that great majority of True Homes—modest, beautiful, homelike, livable.” Readers were also advised to “Remember Bullock’s Term Accounts to make purchasing more convenient.
For the remainder of the guide, there are photos and text for a wide variety of offerings. The first page shows complete living room and dining room arrangements with “overstuffed” sofas and chairs, fibre draperies and Wilton rugs, among others. Suites for these rooms were also highlighted including higher-end sets with Italian Renaissance dining room furniture, at $297.50, with a five-foot long buffet with lined drawers for storing silver, five-ply walnut veneer and upholstered tapestry seats for chairs and a three-piece living room set, at $232.50, with an ornate upholstery design, mahogany finishing, spring-filled cushions, edges and backs, and more, while a Italian Renaissance mahogany table could be added.
More modest budgets could afford three-piece living room suites with mahogany and cane frames and attractive velour upholstering, but with less quality in construction than the more expensive sets, with console or living room tables that were correspondingly priced. Colonial style furniture also featured prominently, including breakfast sets, chairs and rockets, telephone stands, sewing cabinets and mahogany spinet desks.
Bedroom sets of four or six pieces included a Colonial version with a half-dozen mahogany and birch pieces, including the bed, dressing table, bench, night stand, chiffonier and dresser with mirror, for about $480. Far more affordable were the four-piece walnut veneer set of bed, dresser, chifforette and dressing table at $169.50 or the six-piece enameled set of bed, rocker, chair, night stand, chifforette and dresser for $144, with twin beds available, as was, for $55, a junior vanity.
Called “Ideally ‘Californian” was fibre (wicker) furniture made of birch bark with tapestry upholstery and which was deemed to be “colorful, happy, and full of brightness” as well as of “high character.” A davenport cost $110 with an extra $5.75 for cushions, while three types of rockers or chairs fetched $28.75, a book rack went for $11.50, a chair and desk set cost $35.50, a fern stand was $7.95, a table cost $19.75, a smoking stand fetched $10.75, a foot rest went for $4.95 and a leg rest set a buyer back $10.75.
For other accessories, a floor lamp at $44.85 and a bridge lamp at $29.85 offered fringed shades with both offered as pieces that “give that soft sincerity of homelikeness which you want your friends to feel in your home.” Draperies included the needlepoint-looking Stamford at 85 cents a yard, ruffle curtains at $1 per pair and Marquisette curtains at $1.25 a pair. Phonographs ranged from console models in the Queen Anne style for $89.50 to the Victrola at $150 and the “super phonograph,” the Cheney, which had “revolutionary inventions in tone reproduction” and an Early English design—all for $265.
The last pages featuring “Oriental rugs” from Persia and neighboring countries with prices ranging from $21 for a 3×5 Beluchistan [Baluchistan, now comprising parts of eastern Iran and western Pakistan] example to $375 for a 10×14 Royal Arak piece, while Chinese rugs weren’t described specifically or given a price. Also listed were Wilton rugs, with 9 x 12 models costing $120, including new spring patterns with “rich Persian ad Turkish color harmonies” in blue, rose, tan and taupe. Oversized examples were also available from 9 x 15 to 11.3 x 21 feet.
The last page featured “The Bullock Ideal,” which we might term corporate values, with these being:
To build a business that will never know completion but that will advance continually to meet advancing conditions.
To develop stocks and serve to a notable degree.
To create a personality that will be known for its strength and friendliness.
To arrange an co-ordinate activities to the end of winning confidence by meriting it.
To strive always to secure the satisfaction of every customer.
To whatever degree this ideal was met, Bullock’s remained a regional department store institution of note for nearly nine decades, though its sale to Macy’s in 1988, followed by that chain’s bankruptcy four years later and then its purchase of The Broadway, doomed Bullock’s to extinction, with the end coming in 1996 and remaining stores continuing as Macy’s.