I should have known that the crazy Art Deco tower at 4157 South Figueroa was more than just some 1930s folly (figure 1). When the original permits came back from the city’s Building and Safety department, it was so obvious. Of course this was one of the Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery sites. Along with hot dog stands that looked like hot dogs and restaurants in the shape of bowler hats, the Van de Kamp’s windmill was an icon of LA’s early twentieth century roadside architecture.
Founded in 1915, the bakery that would eventually spread across the entire west coast was started with an investment of just $200. Theodore Van de Kamp and his brother-in-law Lawrence Frank began selling potato chips from a storefront at 236½ Spring Street in downtown LA. [i] They apparently shifted to baked goods after a potato shortage in 1916.[ii]
The company opened its first branch in 1921 and by 1928 there were sixty-three stores. Just two years later, the company had ninety outlets in Southern California and twenty-one in Washington and Oregon.[iii] The operation grew so large that a central production facility was needed to keep up with the demand. Described as the “last word in manufacturing efficiency”, the plant at 2945 Fletcher Drive in Glassell Park was completed in 1930 (figure 2).[iv]
The windmill served as the company’s logo and principal design motif. Over the years, the theme was updated and refined to reflect new tastes. The earliest Van de Kamp’s buildings, designed by Hollywood art director Harry Oliver (1888-1973), used a picturesque, story book architecture (figure 3).[v] In the 1940s, Googie architect Wayne McAllister (1907-2000) created a drive-in coffee shop in Atwater Village (figure 5) and in the 1950s, Welton Becket (1902-1969) designed sleek modern restaurants for LA’s Miracle Mile area (figure 6).
The structure on Figueroa was part of a group of projects that employed an Art Deco style (figure 4). Building permits were issued in 1930 for the construction of new stores at 4153, 4155 and 4157 Figueroa. The firm of Nordstrom and Anderson was listed as the architects.[vi] Nordstrom and Anderson, who also designed the Sontag Drug Store and the Aero Industries Technical Institute, had developed an extremely successful local practice focusing on commercial and industrial architecture.[vii] It seems likely that the firm also designed the Van de Kamp’s windmills, but it is hard to say for sure. The company is not listed as the owner of 4157 Figueroa until 1932 when permits were submitted to change awnings and add tile bulkheads. It is possible that Nordstrom and Anderson designed the shops and the windmill was added later.
Of the 50 Van de Kamp’s locations listed in the 1932 LA City Directory, this tower is the only survivor. Most of the buildings have been demolished; many have become parking lots. Many more have become gas stations, probably because of their strategic location on LA’s busiest intersections.
The Van de Kamp family sold the bakeries to the General Baking Company in 1956. In 1979 it was sold again, this time to private investors. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1990. The Van de Kamp’s brand is still used locally by Ralphs supermarkets for their line of donuts and baked goods. The coffee shops were bought by the Tiny Naylor’s restaurant chain which was later absorbed by Denny’s. The last windmill with its sails intact can be found on a Denny’s on the corner of Huntington and Santa Anita in Arcadia.
[i] “Baking Company Expands: Van de Kamp’s to Add Large Kitchen Units…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Sep 2, 1928, pg. F4
[ii] http://blogs.dailybreeze.com/history/2011/10/13/van-de-kamps-bakeries/. Besides the bakeries, the family also founded the Lawry’s Restaurants and the Tam O’Shanter Inn.
[iii]“Financial: Dutch Bakeries Show Headway Sales Gain on 1929…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 9, 1930, pg. 12.
[iv] “Financial: Dutch Bakeries Show Headway Sales Gain on 1929…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 9, 1930, pg. 12
[vi]Department of Building and Safety, “Application for the Erection of Buildings”
[vii] Information about Nordstrom and Anderson is scare. According to his obituary in the Southwest Builder and Contractor, Alvan Nordstrom began his architectural practice in San Francisco. He moved to LA in 1928 where he established the firm of Nordstrom & Anderson, Architects and Engineers. The partners planned and executed several important commissions for business and industrial structures in Southern California. Nordstrom passed away in September 1946. “Hollywood Store Building Nearing Completion: Marble Front Held Feature of Structure” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Aug 23, 1931, pg. D3; “Building to Rise for New Store” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jun 26, 1938, pg. E3