AKA: Williams, J. A., and Company Dry Goods Store, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA; Broadway Department Store #1, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - department stores

Designers: Dorn, Frederick R., Architect (firm); Frederick Rice Dorn (architect)

Dates: constructed 1894-1895

3 stories

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320 South Broadway
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Building History

The Hallett and Pirtle Block was completed by about 08/1895. Its Initial occupants were the Pearson Drapery Company. La Veta Restaurant, owned by E.T. Kussman, and the medical offices of Drs. W.E. Lindley and William H. Smith. The Los Angeles Herald, in a full-page spread on the building described its setting, dimensions and arrangement: "Occupying a commanding position among the many new and pretentious commercial blocks which are being completed along Broadway stands the Hallett & Pirtle block, now fresh from the hands of the builders. The proportions of the structure are massive, extending 122 1/2 feet along Broadway and 161 feet along Fourth, three stories in height. Its style of architecture cannot be better described than to say that it conforms strictly to the highest type of modern commercial construction, being adorned along the sky lines and upon the facades with graceful cornices, plasters [sic] and belts. The ground story of the building is done in steel, iron and glass, and the upper stories in selected Los Angeles brick, trimmed with stone and iron. The second story of the building is designed for business offices, while the third floor will be utilized for lodgings. The ground floor contains six spacious storerooms on Broadway, each 19 by 118 feet in dimensions, and two stores upon Fourth street, each 15 by 60 feet." (See "Stores and Offices," Building and Engineering News, vol. 22, 12/20/1922, p. 16.)

The Broadway Department Store was owned by the English-born merchant Arthur Letts (1861-1923), who first migrated to Toronto, ON, and volunteered to fight with Anglophone forces in Saskatchewan against the Métis in the mid-1880s. He was decorated for his wartime service, and awarded land by the Canadian government. Not finding Canada to his liking, Letts relocated to Seattle, WA, by the early 1890s. In 1892, he worked as a men's furnisher at 323 Pike Street, and lived at 1920 8th Avenue. (See Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1892, p. 551.) In Seattle, he made the acquaintance of other English expatriates, including the architect John Parkinson (1861-1935). Like Parkinson, Letts left Seattle for Los Angeles during the deep Depression that settled over the city after 1893. Both men would find great success here, becoming leaders in their respective fields. Letts would later commission Parkinson (and his partner George Edwin Bergstrom [1876-1955]) to design the first Bullocks Department Store in Downtown Los Angeles, CA, (1907).

In Los Angeles, Letts took over the bankrupt J. A. Williams and Company Dry Goods Store on the southern fringes of the downtown retail area. He renamed the store "The Broadway Department Store" on 02/24/1896, beginning a steady ascent into the upper echelon of merchants in the city.

Building Notes

In 1895, the building's architect, Fred R. Dorn (1867-1934), had his offices in the Hallet-Pirtle Block.

The Hallett-Pirtle Block had an internal light court that provided light and ventilation to interior rooms.

In 1911, the Broadway Department Store had a New York office at 377 Broadway.


This Broadway Department Store was heavily altered during its years of operation.

In 1922, an addition was planned to the Broadway Department Store. A notice appeared in the construction industry periodical, Building and Engineering News of the Broadway's latest expansion plan: "Archits. John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson, 420 Title Insurance Bldg., L.A., are commencing the preparation of plans for the addition to be erected on 4th St. for the Broadway Department Store. It will be 80x125 ft. 11 stories, mezzanine story, basement, and sub-basement, steel frames and brick constr., reinf. concrete floors, press, brick and terra cotta facing, plate glass, 8 passenger elevators, truck elevators, etc. It is also planned to add one or more stories to the present bldg., and to install escalators." (See "Stores and Offices," Building and Engineering News, vol. 22, 12/20/1922, p. 16.)

PCAD id: 19294