Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

 Farewell to Orchard Supply Hardware (and other ironmongers)

2017 was bad enough, with Family Affair Music and Alhambra Camera closing, but 2018 is a sad year for the do-it-yourself set in California. After spending large amounts of money on remodeling existing locations and opening new stores in their Orchard Supply Hardware division, Lowe’s announced that they’re pulling the plug on OSH, and by the time you read this, the liquidation should be well along.  Railfans were disappointed because OSH had a tradition of issuing calendars featuring artistic pictures of railroad action.  Not quite like a death in the family, but the Orchard Supply people were nice folks who took good care of the customers.

East Pasadena: Many years ago this was a Builders Emporium.  When that chain went queep in the mid-1990s, OSH took over the site and it was like night and day.  The BE personnel seemed to be there for occupational therapy from the State Home for the Not Too Swift.  OSH people were knowledgeable and competent.  Going back even further, this location was occupied by Simpson’s Garden Town, an extensive plant nursery and garden supply store.  They also had a pet department, with an assortment of birds for sale.  Back in 1959, Simpson’s caught fire, and one of the employees opened the bird cages so the feathered friends would have a chance to escape.  Among the birds was a group of parrots, which found that the San Gabriel Valley was  enough like their native habitat in Mexico for them to find homes in the area.  This was almost 60 years ago, but the parrots are still around, and often times I’ll see a band of them flying rapidly over our neighborhood at dusk, as if they want be back in their nests in time for a Monty Python rerun show.

One of the wild parrots in Arcadia.  Usually they keep their distance, but this one was close enough for my point and shoot camera.

The East Pasadena OSH.  This is/was the nearest one to our home.  When I went here to get photos and stock up on bargain items, who should I meet, but Bob, the former owner of Alhambra Camera, which I wrote up in an earlier Old Curiosity Shop.  He was expecting to be living in the Sacramento area by now, but “things happened” and he’s still down here in the Southland.  He (along with many others) is very upset with Lowe’s for so abruptly shutting down the OSH stores, because there’s one just a short distance from his future abode up north, but by the time he gets everything cleared up down here, it will have joined the others in the “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore” file.

South Pasadena:  This store has a dark past.  Many years ago the site was an Ole’s Home Center, and like Simpson’s caught on fire.  But this wasn’t an accident; the fire was started by an arsonist, who turned out to be a highly respected fire inspector.  He had set other fires, but this one resulted in four deaths, including a young boy.  A new book, Burned by former Pasadena Star News editor Frank Girardot Jr. reports that the disgraced inspector is now serving a life without possibility of parole sentence. I’ve heard that new employees are sometime told about the fire, and that the location may be haunted.  I ordered a copy of Burned at Vroman’s, and the clerk who took my order mentioned another fire in the same neighborhood at the South Pasadena OSH, the one that destroyed the Raymond Hill Hotel in 1895.  He told me about photos of the hotel that had been taken by A. C. Vroman, founder of the bookstore.

The South Pasadena OSH, with the trees in the background on Raymond Hill.


Monrovia:  The Monrovia OSH only opened a year or two ago, in a space once occupied by an Office Depot store (one gets the impression that the office-products chains may be thinning out their coverage, too).  Going WAAAY back, this corner was home to the 705 gas station, one of the first self-serve purveyors of petrol.  The rear part of the property was home to a small fleet of second-hand buses that offered local bus service around Monrovia around 1950.

Monrovia OSH, in the former Office Depot building.  This was a handy location, because it’s a bit over a block to the local Trader Joe’s.


Next door to the Monrovia OSH, there’s a pet-supply store in the former Circuit City space.  They had several cats up for adoption, including this winsome pair.


San Jose: This was the “mother church of OSH,” which started in San Jose back when the area was mostly fruit orchards.  I only went there once, but it was almost a pilgrimage, like going to Sun Studio or the Brill Building.


Other casualties

Smith’s Hardware:  This was our neighborhood hardware store when we lived nearby in San Gabriel.  It was one of those stores where one could find all sorts of useful items that the big box store people never heard of.

Berg Hardware: This was on Colorado Boulevard west of Allen, near the old home of Dow Radio.  They had goodies that even Smith’s didn’t have.  They moved to a former local grocery store building at Altadena Drive and Villa Street just north of the 210 Freeway, but finally closed down a few years ago.

Valley Hardware:  Our local hardware store in Monrovia.  They started out in the late 1940s in a mysterious store front on Myrtle Avenue just north of Colorado.  I remember how the front of the building was covered with sheet metal panels and have a vague recollection of seeing a man going through a small doorway.  Finally it came to life as the Valley Hardware store and stayed there for many years.  Eventually it moved to another building about half a block south and on the other side of the street.  They started emphasizing housewares, toys and model trains after the Home Depot opened on the site of a Mercury car dealership on Huntington Drive, but finally threw in the towel.

National Lumber: Getting into the chain stores that are among the “Things That Aren’t There Anymore” we have National Lumber, who were known for their TV commercials featuring Shorty and Cheap Chicken cartoons.  They even publish advertising booklets featuring these two characters in comic book format.

Ole’s Home Centers:  I don’t remember much about Ole’s, they disappeared a long time ago.  At one point there was a labor dispute going one, and my brother and one of his friends went to the store on Valley Boulevard and when confronted by the pickets, said, “What do you have against Ole?  We think Ole is a cool head.”

Discount Builders Supply: One of the earlier supermarkets in Monrovia was the Market Basket on Lemon Avenue.  Its previous version had been an open-front market on Myrtle Avenue, in a building that saw a multitude of uses after the grocery store moved.  I remember the big old National cash registers with different keys for the various categories of food and non-food items.   I’ve forgotten where the food market moved, but the building became the home of Discount Building Supply, which also had a store in Irwindale.  For many years it was our go-to store for building materials and repair supplies, but it was eventually closed and the site is now occupied by parking lots and residential buildings.

Builders Emporium.  I found this article in the LA Times files (back in the days of keeping physical copies of old news items, newspaper libraries were often called “The Morgue”)



Builders Chain Starts Liquidation Sale
September 3, 1993 | KURT PITZER

Liquidation sales began Thursday at Builders Emporium Stores, with a pledge by the San Fernando Valley-based company to empty its stores of the entire $160-million inventory, at any price. "When the sale is over, there will be nothing left," said Paul Buxbaum, a consultant for the going-out-of-business sale. "The merchandise will find its price. One way or another we'll get rid of it."

This account reminded me of the cartoon showing a men’s wear store that’s been completely stripped.  The racks are empty, except for a few stray clothes hangers.  The display dummies are bare.  The staff is standing around in their underwear, and the manager, also in his skivvies, says, “That, gentlemen, is what I call a SALE!!”

There’s an old story about a man who was always well-dressed at work, but when he came home and was ready to do chores and projects, he’d put on these ratty old work clothes that looked like something from the trash bin behind the Salvation Army thrift store.  One day he was building a cabinet for the garage, and found he need some more fasteners.  He told his wife that he was going off to the hardware store and would be back shortly.  Wife asked, “Aren’t you going to change clothes?” “No, I’m just going to get some more bolts and screws” “Can you stop by the post office and mail these letters in the box at the curb?” “Sure!”  So he takes off, and after a while his wife starts wondering why he’s taking so long.  Finally, he gets home, and instead of a small bag of fasteners, he has a big shopping bag.  Wife says, “I was starting to worry.”  “Well, things happened.  The curb box at the post office had been knocked over by a drunk driver, so I had to go inside to mail the letters.  Then I remembered that we were getting low on stamps, so I bought a couple of packs.  Coming out the door, I spotted that old homeless guy who hangs around there, and went to give him my change.  When he said, ‘Keep it, Buddy, you need it more than I do’ I realized that it was time for some new work clothes, and the hardware store was having a special on Ben Davis coveralls.”

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