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Since its opening in 1952, Lakewood’s, signature department store has proudly served millions of shoppers. Pictured is the ground breaking for the store in 1950. Courtesy Lakewood Center.

By Tammye McDuff

On Saturday, October 21, 2017, the City of Lakewood, Lakewood Center and Macy’s celebrated the 65th anniversary of the iconic Macy’s building. A collection of posters including historic photos curated by Lakewood’s Historian Emeritus D. J. Waldie was displayed near the Macy’s mall entrance to tell the story of the innovative building and mall, and their impact on suburban culture.

Developers faced a huge task in 1950, to turn six square miles of farmland into a complete community of homes, parks, schools and places to shop. Their solution was Lakewood, the first fully planned suburban community in California to be built after World War II.

At the heart of the community design was a new way to shop, a 154 acre retail center that would include department stores, specialty shops and entertainment attractions along a pedestrian mall.

Groundbreaking for the May company building took place on October 14, 1950 as 300 business leaders and state and county officials looked on, the Los Angeles Times described the Lakewood project as the world’s largest shopping center.

In 1952, the Lakewood Center’s iconic May Company building, which later changed to Macy’s in 2006, opened to throngs of eager shoppers, the first to experience the concept of a regional shopping mall. Lakewood Center changed the way Californians shop, and set the pattern for the next 60 years of retailing, not just in California but in the nation.

Among the May company departments was the west’s largest youth department, a beauty salon, nurses and a doctor were on duty in the stores on clinic as well as a dentist office.

To celebrate, a drawing was held to take a unique small-group tour of special back areas of the historic Macy’s building, including the rarely seen delivery tunnel under the mall that was designated as a community bomb shelter during the Cold War years.

Lakewood Center has a secret that made the car free mall possible.  It’s the half mile long tunnel that runs beneath the mall from Target to JC Penney.  The tunnel made it possible to make deliveries to stores without interrupting the mall with cross streets and loading docks.

  • JM says:

    Re: May Co. Macy’s 65th Anniversary
    Dear Editor:

    Personally, remember this mall as small child, we used to go there a lot, the parking traffic was horrendous, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic because this was the only mall, besides shopping downtown Long Beach and also going to Huntington Park shopping in the downtown area. There were no other shopping centers. So the congestion was heavy in this area.
    Also remember a few other key important stores, adjacent Woolworths next door, think it also had a basement, and then there was Butler Brothers at the far end of the mall, and I think that also had a small basement. Basements were avenues for the community to vacate to in case there was war times: Vietnam War and the Korean War plus the Cuban disturbance.
    Across the street from the May Co., sat Park Chevrolet. Remember when we went to Lakewood mall, we would always drive Southbound on Lakewood Boulevard towards Long Beach Airport, as there was a tunnel bridge under the airport, built for a fallout shelter, and we enjoyed honking the car horns underneath the bridge & driving over and over thru the Long Beach Traffic Circle . That was a lot of fun and a freebie when you’re a small toddler.
    May Company had a unique credit card system, they were very small aluminum tags and that was being used to run the credit charges with carbon paper & no computers, operators had to telephone in charges or look for charges in large paper reference books.
    Woolworth’s had great ice cream floats at the counter , and the adjacent Sav-On had fantastic ice cream cones for a nickel. Also, Harris n Frank clothiers. Latter is the post development, Bullocks was developed along the south side, was a spinoff from Bullocks Wilshire, today is Home Depot etc. Buffums sat south on the mall, on PCH. Tahitian Village sat north of the LW Mall.
    Adjacent neighborhood homes to Lakewood Mall were built in late 40’s and early 50’s for approximately $10K each., sm. 5,000 Sq Ft lots. Some floor plans had attached garages, stainless steel kitchen counter tops and first ever, portable dishwashers which hooked in to the kitchen sinks, some had exterior garbage pails and others had backyard concrete incinerator’s.
    Back in the 50’s- 60’s, May Company and the Lakewood mall had very extensive usage of small display windows on the exterior of each store, because it was an outdoor mall it was not enclosed mall like today. Many of the windows were redressed weekly, and they also had contest who could have the best designed display window. I won a contest one Thanksgiving for a display window. My prize was a free turkey. Plus a coupon for a free pie at Marie Calender’s.
    Great story the LCCN put together.