The Mystery of J.W. Robinson [Updated]

J.W. Robinson's

A postcard showing the J.W. Robinson Co. Building has been listed on EBay. And it’s more of a mystery than I expected….

I had a bit of trouble locating the building on Google’s street view before I learned that it was modernized in 1934.

May 24, 1914, J. W. Robinson
May 24, 1914: The Times publishes an artist’s concept of the new J.W. Robinson store at 7th Street and Grand Avenue. Notice that the actual building has been drastically altered.

According to Richard Longstreth’s “City Center to Regional Mall,” this is what the J. W. Robinson  Building looked like, as shown in a photo in the Dick Whittington Collection at USC. Notice that the building isn’t as wide as the one shown on the postcard. Hm. A puzzlement.

Aha!  Expanded in 1923:

Jan. 11, 1923, J.W. Robinson
Jan. 11, 1923, Robinson's

Feb 4., 1934, J.W. Robinson  
[Update: Feb. 4, 1934: The 1915 building is to be updated with a “restrained modernistic design.” ]

Feb. 4, 1934, J.W. Robinson

The building was heavily modified in 1934 and now looks like this:

7th and Grand, Los Angeles, CA
7th Street and Grand Avenue via Google maps’ street view.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1914, 1915, 1923, 1934, Architecture, Downtown, Fashion, Found on EBay, Preservation. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Mystery of J.W. Robinson [Updated]

  1. juliemerholz says:

    When I was a little girl in the 1940s my mom would take me to Robinson’s a couple of times a year. We would always go at Christmas time to look at the wonderful window displays and often do a little Christmas shopping inside. We would go in the evening because the lights in the windows were beautiful. Then we would meet my father at Perino’s for dinner. We would also go to Robinson’s during the summer. We would do a little shopping and go for lunch at Clifton’s and then to a movie. Lovely memories.


  2. Jasmijn says:

    It amazes me to think that these stores (Robinson’s, Hamburger/May Co) were once so successful that they had to keep building on additions and expanding into larger and larger buildings… and now they’re gone, a few short decades later. I came to this store in the late 80s and to the May Co by LACMA (as well as the Bullocks Wilshire) which were all along my bus route during my freshman year at UCLA, but was too awed and awkward to actually try to buy anything… which of course I now bitterly regret because I’ll never have that chance again. Memories like that are what spur me to seize the chance to check out everything I can while it’s still here!


  3. CatM says:

    I wonder why they took of just the tower caps?


    • lmharnisch says:

      @CatM: The work on the exterior was fairly extensive. Remember that Los Angeles had a height restriction in this period. According to the 1934 story, the revised building would come close to the height limit.


  4. Dick Morris says:

    **I wonder why they took of just the tower caps?**

    Building code changes following the 1933 earthquake?


  5. Janice says:

    I have a relative that worked at J.W. Robinson Co. in 1930 – 1940. Her job was listed as “teacher phys. culture”. Does anyone know what that means? Could it be anything like the beauty consultants that are at makeup counters in department stores of today? Thanks for any input.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Basically a P.E. teacher. I can’t find anything about J.W. Robinson offering exercise classes but that sounds like what your relative was doing.


      • Janice says:

        Hi and thanks for your response. I also thought P.E. Teacher but it just didn’t correlate with J.W. Robinson so something must be wrong with the info. Thank you!


  6. Bruce K says:

    Readers may enjoy a brief history of the J.W. Robinson Co. at:


  7. Al Donnelly says:

    Looking at the position of the autos, it would seem that the sketch of the coming expansion in the 20’s is actually the same artwork rendering for the postcard (which may not be taken from a real photo).
    I just picked up a silverplated spoon made by the Wallingford Company (c. 1904-40) in the very plain Winsor Pattern (1907-on) and carrying the stamped block-letter initials “J. W. R. Co.” as a topmark. Still not certain that it is early Robinson’s. Basically suitable for fountain service, or a tea room, but not very fancy for anything like a store restaurant of later years. Then again, the early Bullocks used an ugly gray-decorated china.


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