Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Burbank

Found this postcard pic on Wes Clark/Mike McDaniel's wonderful Burbankia website. One of my first jobs a loooong time ago was at Burcal during Christmas break in the 60's!

Remembering downtown of yore

By Richard Tafilaw
Published: Last Updated Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:00 PM PDT

Would you believe there once was an empty lot where, only a few decades ago, a traveling circus would arrive, set up a genuine “big top” and proceed to joyfully entertain Burbank residents young and old for a couple of weeks each year? Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Burbank, 1975.

The ultra-modern Golden Mall, one of our town’s great commercial failures, began where Macy’s now meets Cypress Avenue.

Mall organizers took six blocks of San Fernando Boulevard, blocked off automobile traffic and tried to make the old shopping district a user-friendly shopping experience with trees, fountains, grassy areas, benches and, of course, a wide variety of stores. It sort of succeeded for a while, but then that 800-pound gorilla — the Glendale Galleria — opened up. A noble effort, nonetheless.

Let’s reminisce a bit. Right across from today’s California Pizza Kitchen on Cypress was the Burbank Surplus & Western Wear store, where yours truly once picked up a pair of Levi’s bell-bottom patch pocket jeans, and I mean to tell you I looked “hotter than Georgia asphalt” in them!

Where the AMC Theatre in the Town Center mall now sits was a Goodyear Tire Center, and up by Magnolia Boulevard, in place of the Pomodoro Restaurant, my entire life savings safely rested inside the trusted vaults of Gibraltar Savings & Loan, sometimes as much as $400.

Directly across Magnolia was a favorite stop for many an anxious child with a complicit parent in tow — the Thrifty Drug Store with its low-cost scoops of delicious ice cream, and right next door, the shop now occupied by Urban Outfitters was the ever-fascinating J.J. Newberry’s — sort of a hybrid mixture of a five-and-dime store and a department store.

Across the way sat the venerable J.C. Penney’s building with, I’m not making this up, folks, a genuine elevator inside. Just in front where traffic flows freely today was a children’s playground and a convenient men’s and women’s washroom. How very thoughtful — today’s urban planners, please take note!

Continuing on south, you’d pass a Hallmark Shop and Kessler Jewelers. No, wait! Time out on the field! Kessler Jewelers? Is this 1975 or 2010? Yikes, it’s both — they’re still here today! Congratulations, guys, you get a longevity award.

Meanwhile, what’s that up ahead? Two delightful water fountains adjacent to the very popular Burcal Store at Palm Avenue! Burcal? I wonder how they came up with that catchy name. Kitty corner was a Sav-On drug store, and just west of that in the space now occupied by the AMC Theatre complex was the old Elks Lodge.

Farther south we encounter a Pep Boys and a Singer Sewing Center on our right and a classic Woolworth’s at the next corner on our left, now taken up by a Mairinello School of Beauty.

In the middle of Orange Grove, set back toward the east side of the mall, was a hexagonal public pavilion of sorts that was used for special occasions such as “Come Meet the Easter Bunny,” art exhibits, karate exhibitions, and I clearly remember seeing an Irish clog-dancing show there long before Riverdance came along.

Reaching Olive Avenue, in the spot today filled by the Universal City Studios Credit Union was a Wells Fargo Bank with a small Gas Company office next door, where I would pop in once a month and pay my bill in cash. Remember cash?

Across San Fernando Boulevard where the Tnn Mobile outlet now is was a variety store, but the real draw for me was stepping into a building some sources contend to be the oldest continually operated commercial building in the city. OK, maybe it’s not the Bradbury Building, but it’s all we’ve got.

I know I’ve missed more than a couple of favorite stops with friendly names like Al’s Bootery, Mamselles Shoes, Ed’s For Men & Young Men and Doty Lee’s, but cut me some slack — it was long ago and far away.

Unlike Pasadena’s Colorado and Glendale’s Brand boulevards, Burbank never opted to widen its main business thoroughfare, and it remains today a rather sleepy area during the day, but with the popularity of the AMC Theatre it does seem to do a respectable business in the evening and on weekends.

I do wonder what it will all be like in another 35 years, but I’ll be long gone then, and you’ll have to write that one.

RICHARD J. TAFILAW is a Burbank resident, small-business owner and freelance writer. He can be reached at

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