A New Market Opens in Montrose 1939

Store openings may be grand events today but nothing compares to supermarket openings in the past. Supermarket openings back then were over the top, goofy extravaganzas.

Take for example the 1939 opening of the new Fitzsimmons Market in a large building on the northeast corner of Verdugo Boulevard and Broadview. Two full days of circus-like entertainment were cooked up by the store’s promoters. Here’s what the Glendale News-Press wrote: “Featured on the entertainment program will be Harve LeRoy’s swing band to furnish music for the patrons and guests; Carl Sten, a magician; Eddy Penny, a famous clown in a special trapeze act on the roof of the building and who possesses the ability to dislocate his shoulders and elbows at the same time, according to Howard O. Hudson, master of ceremonies.” (Howard Hudson was a B-list actor. He was in several films – “Hollywood Hotel,” “Hit Parade of 1941,” Abbott and Costello’s “Keep ’Em Flying” and appropriately “The Big Store” with the Marx Brothers.)

Wow! Great show. There was actually a trapeze mounted on the roof of the building for the acrobatic act. But there were even more offerings: “Other acts will be a Punch and Judy show, a contortionist, barrel juggling and other stunts that will appeal alike to both young and old.” (Not sure what barrel juggling is?)

The Glendale News-Press continued: “Lights and flags will add to the brilliance and color of the occasion and attract shoppers from all parts of Crescenta Valley and the adjacent territory. Contests of various kinds will be conducted at intervals during the two days of the opening. One of these contests will be a pie eating competition.”

The Marco Dog Food Company put on a pet parade and contest to apparently march around, but not through, the new store. A very unique draw was free messenger pigeons. Folgers Coffee was bringing in a big batch of homing pigeons that would carry “Folgergrams” to anyplace in the United States.

Refreshments would be served free to attendees of the grand opening – ice cream, doughnuts, coffee and soft drinks. Children had to be accompanied by their parents in order to partake.

At night, floodlights illuminated the building and the events, and two giant 325 million candlepower arc lights swept the skies in front of the store.

The store itself had an open front wall, as was the style for markets of that era. Abundant natural daylight came in through the open front and windows on the sides. The display stands and shelves were gorgeous, natural wood and white porcelain with shiny chrome accents. The latest technology in refrigeration had been installed to ensure freshness. Seven departments made up the stock of the store: meats, groceries, delicatessen, bakery and fruits and vegetables. A beverage department (assuming alcohol) was housed in a separate attached structure. And just to show there’s nothing new – a health foods department was featured.

Having its own parking lot right next to the supermarket was also a feature as some older markets of that era were storefronts with little convenient parking. America was transitioning to a nation in cars and shopping by taking a streetcar or walking was becoming less attractive.

I don’t know what happened to Fitzsimmons Market but by the ’60s the building had been torn down and a gas station was at that corner. It’s now a large and very modern looking medical office/retail building. Interesting that it was demolished when other supermarket buildings from that era still survive – some still as markets. The Sprouts in La Cañada is a former Shopping Bag Market. The old Rebal’s Market building in Verdugo City has been repurposed as a large spa and several other retail outlets and offices. The former Shopping Bag on Honolulu Avenue is now split between a restaurant and a dance studio, and Ace Hardware on Foothill Boulevard is also a former Shopping Bag of that era.

It’s a good thing when buildings can be creatively recycled.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at