Forget those Saturday morning Farmers Markets. Forget those weekly farmers markets around the towns and cities in California and across the country. Los Angeles has a permanent Farmers Market, open 365 days a year, located at the corner of Third Avenue and Fairfax in downtown Los Angeles. When in the downtown LA area, you must go! I am.
Today, the Market thrives, and along with the nearby Grove, combines to make a great shopping and dining venue for the folks in central Los Angeles. It is hard to believe that back in the summer of 1934, a bunch of farmer’s pulled their trucks up to some empty land at Third and Fairfax. Customers quickly appeared, parking in a hastily created dirt parking lot. The produce consisted of not only fruit and vegetables, but also flowers. It became an instant institution.
We owe it all to Arthur Gilmore, who purchased the land, and after various events, created a dairy farm. When drilling for water for this dairy cows, he struck oil. By 1905, the dairy was gone and Gilmore Oil Company was born. In 1934, he built the first race track, specifically designed for midget car racers. He even became successful at the Indianapolis 500 Auto Race, producing winners in 1935 and 1937.
Gilmore Stadium was also home to the Bulldogs, the first professional football team in Los Angeles. It was also used for boxing, wrestling, rodeos, and even swimming. He soon built Gilmore Field, home to the Hollywood Stars minor league baseball team, owned by such famous stars as Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, and Cecil B. DeMille. Their popularity helped persuade the owners of the Dodgers to move west in 1958.
Meanwhile, Farmers Market continued its success, whereby farmers were charged a mere 50 cents for daily use of a wooden stall. The first wave consisted of only 18 farmers. By the 1920s, the Farmers Market grossed $6 million. More importantly, it became a central meeting point for Angelinos. It became, and still is, a major tourist attraction in Southern California. Along the way, it has hosted circus acts, parades, and “stargazing.”
Arthur Gilmore’s son, E.B., appears to be the first to have invented the “self-serve” gas station. Customers saved 5 cents a gallon by pumping their own gas! An exact replica of the 1936 gas station, was built at the Farmers Market. Blanche Magee was among the first to notice the farmers parked at Third and Fairfax. She started selling sandwiches to the farmers back then. The Magees are still in business today. To this day, more than 90% of the shops and restaurants in the Farmers Market are independently owned and operated. They employ over 700 people in 85 shops and restaurants.
I usually eat at Du-Par’s Restaurant, a family owned place opened over 70 years ago, making it one of the oldest operating food places in Los Angeles. Their specialty is the old-fashioned meat pie. And Magee’s Nuts still sells over 100,000 pounds of fresh peanut butter annually, to the likes of people including former President Dwight Eisenhower. The Market also sells more than 1000 gallons of coffee. And the wishing well collects over $35 per day, generating close to $1 million to charity over the years.
Over 3 million visitors show up each year, including the New Year’s Holiday when the Rose Bowl is held in nearby Pasadena. An auto show is held here annually, in honor of the founding Gilmore Family. The Los Angeles Times says the Farmers Market is the number one place to spot television and movie stars. Littlejohn’s House of English Toffee still makes their candy by hand. Bennett’s Ice Cream makes their ice cream by hand as well. Legend has it that Liberace showed up in his Cadillac, and purchased all of the cuff links and robes in a Market shop, having never turned off the engine of the car.
CBS Television City is located just north of the Market. Jayne Mansfield was Miss Hollywood Stars in 1955. Sparky Anderson, who later managed two major league baseball teams (including the Cincinnati Reds), was a Star’s bat boy. James Dean was believed to have eaten breakfast on the morning he drove north and died in his fateful auto crash on 9/30/1955. The Lottery booth at the Market is one of the best-selling lottery outlets in California.
The Market does house a few “chain” businesses, like Starbucks. Pinkberry, Chipotle, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Johnny Rockets. Personally, I prefer the little “ma and pa” booths, where the wife waits on the customers at the counter, and the husband is back in the kitchen or grill area, cutting, chopping, and cooking. Then in our new Millennium, the venue expanded once again, to accommodate “The Grove,” an upscale shopping and dining complex adjacent to the Farmers Market. An electric trolley runs between the venues, linking the two sites. The Grove opened in 2002, and became an instantly popular outdoor mall and entertainment center. In fact, Warner Brothers tapes their tabloid news program, Extra, here in front of the animated fountains.
The Grove’s Christmas tree is the tallest in Los Angeles at 110 feet. The anchor retailers are Nordstrom and Crate and Barrel, as well as flagship stores for Abercrombie and Fitch, Apple, and Barnes and Noble.
The most popular place for spotting celebs seems to be the Grove’s Pacific Theatres, a posh 14-screen multiplex which has attracted celeb ticket-buyers such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Kirsten Dunst, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jodie Foster, Dennis Quaid, Diana Ross, Debra Messing, Brittany Murphy, Ashton Kutcher, Robert Downey Jr., Jessica Alba, Andy Dick, Elizabeth Berkley, Orlando Bloom, Geena Davis, Nathan Lane, Raquel Welch, Harry Connick Jr., Jeff Goldbloom, Tori Spelling, Paris & Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie, Kate Bosworth, Heather Graham, Kevin Bacon, Christina Ricci and Winona Ryder.