I recently came across these 50-year-old photographs by Allan Grant that were published in the November 23, 1962 Life Magazine.
They show a brand new supermarket, Piggly Wiggly,that had recently opened at 15821 Ventura Blvd. in Encino. The structure is now gone, replaced by a long, white office building.
What surprised me most was seeing the blend of modernity and kitsch, an architectural and marketing precursor to present day Gelson’s.
There is a view of the exterior, decorative concrete canopies, very 1962. But in front are also 19th Century street lamps, an old wagon, and even trees.
Signs are in decorative fonts.
Inside there is the astonishing sight of butchers in straw hats and bow ties; in another photo is a large sign: “Foods of the World”; and in one image… diagonally stacked shelves of barware: highball, martini and wine glasses, ice buckets, long tapered candles and ash-trays.
Female clerks, done up in beehive hairdos and made up faces, sell cosmetics beside a Victorian wood turret front display case. Lady shoppers (were there any other kind?) could stop off here, pick up a bottle of Shalimar and run home to take a dip in the backyard pool, then broil some lamb chops, and have the table set before Leonard or Irv pulled up in the driveway.
And behind a glass counter, a behatted chef shows off pots of soups to women in pearls and old retired gentlemen peering over.
A lineup of cashiers, stand in formation under the watchful eyes of their male bosses, next to carriage lamp lit checkout lanes. The girls wear puffy shouldered, black and white dresses with their names embroidered on lace.
These photos are fine testament that they had perfected, half a century ago, the California ideal, blending kitsch fantasy with cold, hard business acumen.