BRAND NAMES CAN VANISH
“What’s in a name,” Romeo famously said to Juliet as one of Shakespeare’s frequent quotes. Actually names of products and businesses can be famous and well known for generations, then completely disappear. In my span of years many prominent and daily use names have evaporated.
I became drawn to those well-known names from a column by popular lecturer and wordsmith Richard Lederer. His focus was on brand names that lost their product identity to become a common word in our vocabulary. Let me explain.
We use “band –aid” as a noun to fix anything, but it was the exclusive product of Johnson and Johnson; we say I will “xerox” a document for a copy when the word was a brand name of the Xerox Corporation.
Among the many others are kleenex, scotch tape, post-it notes; zippers and aspirin, all trademarked products that entered the every-day vocabulary despite desperate legal efforts by the manufacturer to have exclusive use.
Coca Cola is one of the few companies that succeeded in keeping its product name, including the common use of Coke. That was granted by the Supreme Court in 1930 when competitors tried to use similar product names.
This Lederer article inspired me to recollect how many popular product and business names that I grew up with and no long exist. Los Angeles, where I lived in the early-20th century, was the hub of Southern California commerce. So many of the big names familiar to me for several decades have simply disappeared.
Let’s start with my childhood. We bought our fresh bakery goods from one of the many windmill stores of Van de Kamp. If you didn’t want to go out for fresh bread, a Helms Bakery wagon would come down the street blowing its distinct whistle to get your attention (the whistle that Mr. Helms distributed and drove patrons wild at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games).
Other street vendors included the Good Humor wagons that prowled neighborhoods in the afternoon for kids to buy nickel ice cream bars. The distinct melody from the wagon could be heard from blocks away. Another extinct street vendor was the local ice wagon delivering blocks of ice to your kitchen ice box. Who had refrigerators in 1932? We kids would follow the wagon down the street to retrieve chucks of ice fallen off to suck on a hot summer day.
There were neighborhood grocery stores like Safeway, Atlantic and Pacific and Alpha-Beta. Ralph’s is the only survivor. Pharmacies were called drug stores. Main streets had Rexall Drug, Owl Drug, Sontag Drug and Thrifty Drug that also featured lunch counters. Here you could get an ice cream soda or milkshake served up by a “soda jerk.” Then there was the iconic Schwab’s Drug on Hollywood Blvd. where movie starlet hopefuls hung out.
There were no fast-foot chains like today, but there were drive-ins serving sodas and sandwiches to your car. Simon’s, Herbert’s, Tiny Naylor’s and McDonnel’s (before McDonald’s) on major intersections were the gathering places for high school kids. The more upscale restaurants in prime locations were the Brown Derby and Pig N Whistle (with the best hot fudge sundays), Will Wright’s and Blum’s for ice cream.
Retail shopping was done downtown where the major department stores displayed their goods in elegant high-rise emporiums, Clustered at the end of Wilshire Blvd. was the Broadway, May Co., Robinson’s and Bullock’s. You got there from West Los Angeles by double-decker buses on Wilshire Blvd, or by Red Car from most other areas. More upscale stores opened later in the Miracle Mile with a Bullock’s-Wilshire, Magnin’s, Desmond’s, Coulter’s and Myer-Siegel. May Co. opened a branch department store at Wilshire and Fairfax to anchor the west end of the Miracle Mile.
In San Diego the place to shop was Marston’s. Special features in the early days were the uniformed doormen, seasonal displays and an elegant restaurant for fashionable ladies to meet for lunch. Marston’s became a Broadway store and moved to Mission Valley as shopping malls took over retailing. In San Diego the first modern mall in 1960 was College Grove on the new 94 Freeway anchored by another local store, Walker-Scott.
All of these names have disappeared in the 21st century. Fast food took over drive- ins, massive pharmacies absorbed the convenient drug stores on Main Street while Amazon and big-box stores dominate retailing. Soon to fade away will be Sears, Macy’s and J.C. Penny, the oldest retailers in America. What happened to them after more than a century of intense competition, massive investment in stores and employer of millions of workers?
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Historic restaurants still operating:
Musso and Frank, Hollywood, 1919; Phillipe’s French Dip, Downtown. 1910; Lawrie’s, Westside, 1938; White Spot, still operating in British Columbia, 1928; El Cholo, Downtown, 1923.
Gone but still remembered:
Little Joe’s, Downtown, 1897; Spanish Kitchen, Westside, 1942; Chasen’s and Scandia, 1947, Westside; Hamburger Hamlet, Westside, 1950; Frascati. Westside and Hollywood, Romanoff’s, Beverly Hills
Nightclubs and ball rooms:
Mocambo, Ciro’s and Palladium, Hollywood; Aragon Ballroom, Ocean Park (Lick) Pier; Casino, Catalina Island; Ocean Park and Long Beach Piers roller coasters and midway.