Southwestern Law School Completes 10-Year Restoration and Adaptation of Bullocks Wilshire
September 28, 2004, Los Angeles, CA – At its 1929 grand opening attended by more than 300,000 customers, Los Angeles’ legendary Bullocks Wilshire building made its mark as a vibrant work of art that echoed the Southwest’s pioneering spirit. The Los Angeles Evening Express called the debut "one of the greatest artistic strides yet taken in the march of progress for which this city is noted."
From the outset, journalists and architecture critics acclaimed the new department store as a vision of the future destined to go down in history. But as elegant and richly appointed as it was, with its terra-cotta and copper tower, Art Deco styling, and fabulous merchandise, the store wasn’t just for the wealthy. According to a news story printed the day of its September 1929 opening, "Bullocks Wilshire is a store for all the people."
heyday of an icon
In the chic emporium’s heyday, patrons rubbed shoulders with famous clientele like Greta Garbo, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Mae West (the voluptuous blonde received curbside service). Customers who pulled up to the porte-cochere entrance handed their keys to "motor" attendants—in those days, valet parking was an unprecedented luxury. And once inside the doors, according to a January 1930 homage to the building in California Arts and Architecture, shoppers were greeted with "an ever-changing, never repeating, succession of novel effects, a shifting, shimmering blend of suave color harmonies, of fabrics, of glass and metal and wood combined as on a painter’s palette."
In 1969, the Bullocks Wilshire building became a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument, and in 1978, it took its place on the National Register of Historic Places. But over the years, many of its prized architectural features were covered or removed. In 1993, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, the store closed.
A year later, Southwestern Law School purchased the building and, after exhaustive research, began restoring the Bullocks Wilshire building to its former unique opulence. It recovered interior columns in sycamore; restored whimsical bas reliefs and boldly abstract murals; retrieved and remounted original light fixtures; scraped walls to reveal layers of sage, saffron or vermilion beneath; and laid custom carpets that suggested those chosen by the building’s innovative designers. The first stage of renovation, more than 80,000 square feet on the lower floors of the five-story structure, won acclaim as one of the best adaptive reuse projects in the country.
Now the distinctive Southwestern Law School campus, encompassing nearly two city blocks in the Wilshire Center district of Los Angeles, incorporates this historic building. It houses an impressive law library; modern classrooms and seminar rooms featuring multi-media technology; a student dining room that once served as the department store’s famous Tea Room; and function rooms that include the exquisitely appointed Louis the Sixteenth Room, the marble-walled former Perfume Hall, and the southwestern-inspired Salle Moderne.
An official project of "Save America’s Treasures," the law school’s restoration project has received 10 awards for excellence, including the Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. According to Richard Moe, president of the Trust, "Southwestern stepped in and restored this magnificent building. Its faith and vision created a ripple effect...Now Southwestern students and the community can enjoy one of the finest Art Deco masterpieces in the nation."
Today, Southwestern is a hub where past and future converge, epitomized by the debut of the Julian C. Dixon Courtroom and Advocacy Center on the first floor of the Bullocks Wilshire building. This state-of-the-art educational facility melds a stylistic homage to the past with the digital legal technology of the future. In this high-tech academic laboratory, law students put cutting-edge litigation methods into dynamic practice. The center’s features include an advanced evidence presentation system, remote conferencing, plasma screen displays, automated court reporting, assistive and foreign language interpretation, and a network-connected jury deliberation room.
Newly opened to law students this summer, the Dixon Center will be formally unveiled to the public at a gala celebration and dinner at Southwestern Law School on Friday, October 22, 2004. The evening celebrates not only the center’s completion, but the culmination of the entire Bullocks Wilshire restoration project and Southwestern campus as well. The formal evening includes a reception, building tours, and technology-focused demonstrations in the Dixon Center beginning at 6 p.m., followed by an elegant al fresco dinner and program. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will be the special guest speaker, and history buff Huell Howser, producer and host of KCET-TV's California's Gold, will serve as master of ceremonies. Tickets for the event are $250. Reservations may be made through Southwestern's Development Office. Corporate sponsorships are available.