Last week I wrote about Spike Jones Market that was located on the southeast corner of Foothill Boulevard and La Crescenta Avenue through the ’50s and ’60s. That brought in several emails from former customers that fondly remembered the little community market.
Floyd Farrar grew up in the valley, but now lives in Orange County. He remembered that when the store opened, the famous comic bandleader Spike Jones, who co-owned the store with his brothers-in-law, was there to entertain the crowd. Spike remembered Floyd from a USO show he had performed for Floyd’s dad’s Seabee unit during the war. It seems that Mom and little Floyd had been perched near the stage for the show and during one of the songs, while all the horns, sirens, cymbals and loud bangs that were the band’s trademark were going off, Spike grabbed 4-year-old Floyd and swung him around on stage while the band members whooped and hollered. Mom said little Floyd’s eyes were as big as baseballs.
Here are some more: Ed Morris still lives with his wife Pat above Valley View Elementary in the house they bought in 1949. He worked at Spike Jones Market in the late ’50s/early ’60s and all three of his children got their birth announcements up on the marquee in front of the store, which was also used to announce local events. Ed remembers the store was run by Ralph and John Greco. Their sister Helen was married to Spike, and was his band’s singer. He said Ralph and his family lived in the “Olive Grove” on Mary Street just east of Rosemont. A few of those century old olive trees still survive along Mary Street. Ed worked at Spike’s with Win Bever, who later owned Win’s Frostee Freeze at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Ramsdell Avenue. As an aside, that Frostee Freeze was moved west on Foothill to 2864, and is still there today as Señor Nacho.
But I was flooded with memories from Mike Love who grew up a few blocks below Spike Jones Market. He told me that the market originally incorporated several independent businesses under its roof – Spike Jones Market, Bill’s Butcher Shop, La Crescenta Pharmacy, a U.S. Post Office, a See’s Candy outlet and a barber shop. An Italian by the name of Louie ran the produce department and drove an old Chevy stake-bed truck down to the produce mart in downtown Los Angeles to hand pick the finest produce. He was a true artisan. Mike remembers Louie would pull his mom aside with some “special produce gem” he had saved just for her, and Mike today credits his love for artichokes to Louie’s hand picked selection.
In Mike’s era, another Italian, Tony, ran the barbershop located downstairs. Tony was an opera lover, and in the evening after he closed his shop he would walk home down La Crescenta Avenue belting out his favorite aria at the top of his lungs. Mike says as a little kid that used to scare the heck out of him!
Mike made regular trips to the market for his mom, often delayed by stops at friends’ houses along the route. His favorite memories are on hot summer evenings when his dad would give him a few bucks and send him for ice cream and strawberries for the family.
Later Mike worked in Spike Jones as a box boy earning $1.15 an hour, and the Greco brothers made him earn it! At the end of the day John Greco would say, “You did a good job today. Go get yourself a soda.” As Mike walked back to the cooler John would shout out, “One of the small ones!” The Greco brothers knew everyone locally, and everyone was a friend. They offered a credit program for customers and regularly donated food to local charities.
It’s remarkable to reflect back on a business that was so well loved by the community, and so warmly remembered. Think about the businesses you use today. Which of those businesses will you look back on in 30 years and remember as fondly as people remember Spike Jones Market?