Let’s Read An Old Menu, Featuring Bullocks Wilshire Tea Room, Los Angeles, CA, 1938

Happy Holidays, everyone, and welcome to Let’s Read An Old Menu! This is a somewhat irregular column in which I, your humble LibraryLass, look at restaurant, hotel, and lunch counter menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes things will be familiar, sometimes they’ll be weird. But one thing you can count on is that they’ll almost always have cottage cheese on the menu, and they’ll almost never actually explain what’s in anything.

Walt Disney’s seminal Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs had its premiere at the legendary Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21st, 1937– only four days removed from 85 years ago as I write this. It met with immediate success, more or less completely changed the film industry forever, and turned Disney from a moderately successful producer of shorts into the face of feature animation. But we’re not just here to talk about it (though I certainly could for pages and pages.) We’re here to talk about a limited-time meal inspired by it, at one of Los Angeles’s most legendary eateries.

What’s for Lunch?

The tearoom of Bullocks Wilshire at 3050 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

The facade of Bullocks Wilshire, photographed in 2005 by Carol M. Highsmith and donated to the Library of Congress.

Is The Restaurant Still There? If not, what can we find out about it?

Bullock’s Department Store had operated in LA since 1907 under the ownership of John G. Bullock. in 1929, Bullock decided to break into the luxury market with his new flagship store. The building was designed by John and Donald Parkinson, designer of many of the city’s most iconic buildings, including the Grand Central Market, LA City Hall, the LA Memorial Coliseum, the Susana Machado house, Union Station, and Braly Block, LA’s first skyscraper; it featured at its main entrance a relief sculpted by George Stanley, designer of the Oscar statuette. Among its interior features included the Irene Salon (the first ever in-store boutique devoted to a single fashion designer, future MGM costume czarina Irene Lentz), a women’s shoe department paneled entirely with the wood from a single massive South American tree, and the Doggery, a specialized mezzanine for luxury canine accessories. But most famous of all was the penthouse Tea Room and ladies’ lounge, which hosted lunchtime fashion shows on Tuesdays.

Postcard showing the interior of the tea room, undated, uploaded to the Tea With Friends blog by Angela McRae. She dates another such card to 1924, but I don’t know how that can be possible since the store was not yet in existence in 1924.

In addition to many Bullock’s branches throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona, Bullocks Wilshire branches were later bult in seven other locations, including Palm Springs, Newport Beach, La Jolla, Woodland Hills, Palos Verdes, Palm Desert, and Woodland Hills. In 1978, the then-still-operating department store was added to the national register of historic places. As the institution of the department store went into decline (as did the Wilshire neighborhood), the two chains were spun off into separate corporations. Bullocks Wilshire was sold to a series of owners over the course of the next two decades, becoming a subsidiary of Macy’s in 1988, who converted the branch locations to I. Magnin’s. The original was severely damaged in the 1992 LA Riots, including being the scene of no less than three arsons, at which point Macy’s, themselves struggling with bankruptcy, gave up the ship, stripped the store of most of its surviving decor and artifacts, and closed shop. Former Bullocks Wilshire owners Federated Department Stores acquired Macy’s in 1996, and consolidated all their Claifornia locations under the Macy’s brand name, spelling the final end for Bullock’s.

Unlike many stories of LA’s 20th century glitz and glamor gone to seed, however, this one has a happy ending. In 1994, Macy’s sold the Bullocks Wilshire building to nearby Southwestern Law School, which restored many of the original furnishings and continues to use it to house their law library to this day. The tea room now serves as a study hall for the school, and is reopened to the public for Tea and Tour Day, once a year during summer break.

The same tearoom, from what I’m reasonably sure is almost the same angle, circa 2007. Uploaded to the Big Orange Landmarks blog by Floyd B. Bariscale.

Patrons of Bullocks Wilshire included Mae West (who preferred to shop from her car, sending saleswomen running to and from their departments), Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Garbo, and, relevant to the theme of this article, Mr. Walt Disney. Famous former employees included Angela Lansbury (who later returned to it as a filming location for Murder, She Wrote) and future First Lady Pat Nixon. Regular customers of the tea room included Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Clarke Gable, Carole Lombard and, surprisingly enough, John Wayne. Motion pictures filmed at Bullocks Wilshire include The Aviator, Dunston Checks In, Night of the Comet, Topper, and the music videos for Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” and Public Enemy’s “By The Time I get To Arizona.”

…I realize not a lot of that was about the restaurant but that’s the challenge of a department store restaurant for you.

Let’s Eat!

Normally I don’t like to feature a Children’s Menu on its own without a corresponding adult menu (which is why there still isn’t a Let’s Read An Old Menu for Howard Johnson’s, by the way), but being as I’m reasonably sure the adult menu around this time had nothing to do with Snow White, and being as it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve cookies to bake, let’s stick to what we’ve got.

The cover image, featuring a blissed-out Snow White baking a pie
This menu was uploaded by reddit user /u/Dangerous-Catch-3255 and I have reason to suspect it’s a reproduction, as in my research I turned up a website that retails prints of this menu for $25.

Snow White looks rather blissed out… and what’s with the striped red-and-blue bodice? You see this a lot in old Disney merchandise, where a character may sport a decidedly off-model color scheme. I knew someone who owned a green-shorted Mickey Mouse doll from the 30s.

The menu itself, featuring art of Doc and Grumpy and your choice of the Snow White Lunchon or the Seven Dwarf Luncheon. Dopey and Sleepy are the only two of the dwarves to go unmentioned. What, couldn’t have named the bran muffin after one of them?

Maybe I’ve been reading these too long, but it all sounds reasonably appetizing for once. Well, almost all. I don’t trust anything called “Sneezy Salad.” And it’s cottage cheese-based? Someone knew what they were doing naming it that. Actually I’d probably like that if it didn’t have such a hilarious name too, but good grief!

Missing from this menu is Bullock’s most famous dessert item, their world-famous coconut cream pie. If you’re a fan, as I am, the OC register purports to reproduce their recipe here. More alleged Bullock’s recipes can be viewed at this link.

Thank you all for reading and happy holidays once again. If you enjoyed this article, or you enjoy Let’s Read An Old Menu in general, I encourange you to share it with your friends, and if possible to support my partner Lovely Bones and I through her Patreon. Things are really tight for us this Christmas and we could use it.