After World War II, developers all over Los Angeles scrambled to create new housing for the massive influx of people who had started arriving during the war. The largest unified development was Lakewood, spearheaded by the Lakewood Park Company. It broke ground in 1950, and by 1953 it contained over 17,000 houses on about 3,500 acres of carefully planned streets. A planned community of that size obviously needed commercial services, and the center for business was the new Lakewood Center, an automobile-oriented shopping center that began construction in 1950.
The May Company built one of the shopping center's first two anchor stores, a three-story Mid-Century Modern building completed in 1952. It was designed by prolific Los Angeles architect A. C. Martin, who also participated in planning the entire shopping center as a North/South-running street of attached one-story, Mid-Century Modern-style storefronts within an enormous parking lot. It was anchored by the May Co. at the south end and Butler Bros. at the north end.
Upon its official opening in 1952, Lakewood Center became a well-known shopping destination touted for its ultramodern style and easy automobile access. The area between the anchor stores filled in with other businesses over the next fifteen years, and the shopping center expanded outward to include stores like a two-story, Mid-Century Modern-style J. C. Penney in 1967.
Lakewood Center saw extensive changes from the 1970s to the 2000s, including the enclosure of open concourses and the addition of a large new east wing and large buildings for Mervyns and Macy's. Many of the center's Mid-Century Modern architectural details have been lost, and the original façade of the May Co. building (occupied by Macy's since 2006) has been significantly altered. The J. C. Penney building is intact, with wonderful decorative concrete panels and a simple, horizontal feel.
Despite the changes to Lakewood Center, it is worth a visit as the onetime site of the latest in Mid-Century Modern shopping center design, and as the commercial heart of the seminal postwar development of Lakewood.