Newcomers to Los Angeles in 1926 might have wondered why the letter carved in the terra cotta corbels around the May Company’s entrance looked more like an “H” than an “M.” Residents who had been around longer were still getting used to calling the big white department store at Eighth & Broadway “The May Company” instead of “Hamburger’s.”
Founded in 1881 by Moses Asher Hamburger as “The People’s Store,” Hamburger’s moved into its new Beaux Arts building at Broadway & Eighth in 1908.
Hamburger’s was acquired by David May of St. Louis on March 31, 1923. Members of the May family, Tom, Wilbur and Morton, helped run the new operation, which initially retained the locally well-known Hamburger name.
The store had its grand opening as The May Company on March 2, 1925. The festivities were broadcast over local radio station KFI. There was a tea room on the mezzanine as well as a basement luncheonette. There was a full grocery department on the 4th floor. The book department was on the second floor. Like its closest competitor, The Broadway, the May Co. catered to the middle-class bargain shopper. My great grandmother worked there as a perfume counter girl.
In the fall of 1926 the May Co. released plans for a new parking garage at 9th & Hill. Designed by Curlett & Beelman, it opened in 1927.
David May died suddenly in June of that year at age 79. The May Co. carried on, however. In 1939 it would open its first branch store, on Wilshire Blvd. The flagship downtown store closed in 1993, May Co. having merged with another old Los Angeles department store, Robinson’s, to become Robinson’s-May. Both the original store building and the garage are still standing.
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