Bullock's Wilshire / Southwestern Law School | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Bullock's Wilshire / Southwestern Law School

Many Southern Californians have treasured memories of the sublimely elegant Bullock's Wilshire, a 1929 Art Deco masterpiece that heralded a new era of suburban shopping. This innovative “cathedral of commerce” closed its doors in 1993, after operating as an I. Magnin for several years. When Macy’s (who owned I. Magnin) stripped the building of its historic fixtures and furnishings, the Conservancy led a successful  effort to persuade the company to return the historic elements to their rightful place, where they remain today.

This world renowned landmark now enjoys new life as an inspirational learning environment and a prime example of adaptive reuse, having been purchased by Southwestern Law School and adaptively reused as the school’s law library.

After decades as a premier shopping destination, Bullock's closed its doors in 1993. Looted in the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles, it was closed in April 1993 by Macy’s, which cited a troubled economy and a neighborhood that could no longer support an upscale store. At an August 1993 liquidation sale, it was discovered that most of the fixtures and furnishings had been systematically removed and relocated to other I. Magnin stores in California. Because so many of the pieces were original to the building and had been specifically designed for its individual rooms, the loss was particularly devastating.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, Bullock's Wilshire Task Force, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, and many other supporters appealed to R.H. Macy’s to return the original fixtures and furnishings to the Bullock's Wilshire Building.

The Conservancy organized people to contact Macy’s, urging the company to be a good corporate citizen.  With a headline of “Don’t Let a Bankrupt New York Company Defile One of LA’s Most Beloved Landmarks,” a flyer was produced that included a strongly worded, but respectful, letter to the chairman of Macy’s.

Volunteers throughout Southern California, and even other cities across the state, distributed the flyers to shoppers in front of I. Magnin stores during the December 1993 holiday season. The response was tremendous. Within a couple of weeks, thousands of advocacy letters descended upon Macy’s’ New York office—along with clippings of news media coverage.

Macy’s reversed their decision, returning 100% of the fixtures and furnishings to Bullock's Wilshire in 1994. A news conference conducted by the Conservancy, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, praised the moral leadership and corporate citizenship of the company. While perhaps it was a small gesture by a large corporation that just wanted to avoid negative publicity, their actions demonstrate that historic preservation can prevail where laws are lacking.

In 1994, Southwestern Law School purchased the Bullock's Wilshire Building and spent ten years and $29 million on exhaustive research, planning, restoration, and sensitive rehabilitation. Among a vast range of projects, the restoration team painstakingly restored murals, put custom wall clocks back in working order, repaired and resurfaced columns and much more.

Southwestern Law School’s extensive preservation of the Bullock's Wilshire Building has received widespread acclaim. The Bullock's Wilshire Building remains a prime example of adaptive reuse.