top of page

The Mandarin Market (1929-1982)

The most unique place to shop in Hollywood was the Mandarin Market on Vine Street, characterized by pagodas, red lacquer roof, and hand-carved dragons to ward off evil spirits.

Mandarin Market Hollywood
Mandarin Market in color (UC Santa Cruz Library)

One of the first drive-in markets of its kind in Los Angeles, the L-shaped building was mostly open-air and bookended by two fully-enclosed shops (24-hour restaurant Chilitown and Mandarin Bakery), as well as a Texaco gasoline kiosk in the front court. To keep the lot available for customers, there was also a rear entrance off La Mirada Avenue for all deliveries.

Inspired by Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre up the street, its decorator Stefan Horbaczek was called upon to put the finishing touches on the Mandarin ahead of its 1929 opening. Inside, the walls were rose-pink with gold leafing and framed by black teak-like woodwork. Chinese symbols and words were painted onto display case tiles and the edges of archways.

Mandarin Market on Vine Street
Mandarin Market (California State Library)

Mandarin Market is also notable as the lone example of Chinese architecture by Henry L. Gogerty, best known at the time for Spanish Revival with former partner Carl Jules Weyl in the early 1920s throughout Hollywood.

Gogerty, who simultaneously designed the eight-story Mountain States Life Building (now the Yucca-Vine Tower)—his first complete work of Art Deco—was instructed by owner William M. Davey to create the most convenient market possible, ultra modern “yet tinged with the dreamy bloom of ancient China.”

Old World met new inside the Mandarin Market. The bakery was powered by the Collins Kelvinator, electric refrigeration to preserve the freshness of pastries without dehydrating them as ordinary cold storage would. The market’s interior was electrically illuminated by conical white glass globes that gave off a whiter light with minimum absorption of rays and maximum diffusion.

Davey—the fifth husband of Gloria Swanson—carefully selected high-class merchants: The grocery, delicatessen, meat department, and produce stands were all managed by Hollywood veterans of fine food. He also supervised the conduct and uniforms of the concessionaires’ employees to ensure the highest standard for Mandarin customers.

Mandarin Market Hollywood 1929
Mandarin Market (USC)

The grocery stocked a complete line of Iris canned foods and ran weekly specials: dozen eggs for 31 cents, ten pounds of cane sugar for 49 cents, two bottles of Dorado Club ginger ale for 25 cents. At the delicatessen, there were imported items such as homemade salads from Cross & Blackwell. The meat department offered “the very best selection” of quality bacon (two half-pound packages for 45 cents), rib roast (32 cents a pound), and “fresh dressed fat hens” at 33 cents a pound. Fruits and vegetables were sourced locally, from a 30-acre farm near La Puente.

Mandarin Bakery
Mandarin Bakery (LAPL)

The Mandarin Bakery’s menu was a sweet assortment of pastries, cakes, petit fours, cream puffs, and baby rolls. Their specialty Mandarin Cake was three layers, two rich chocolate and one white silver, sandwiched with burgundy wine jelly and butter cream, and iced with chocolate fondant.

Chilitown served “real Spanish chili in a Spanish atmosphere” by young female waitresses in Chinese-style pajamas. When John Tait’s took over in 1931, the restaurant marketed its 50-cent Saturday dinner: three courses of soup, salad, and entree.

Hollywood Daily Citizen front page
Hollywood Daily Citizen / March 23, 1929

No expense was spared for the Mandarin’s grand opening on March 23, 1929. The highly-publicized Vine Street gala was hosted by 20 members of The Regulars, Hollywood’s “preeminent movie sorority,” including Davey’s wife Alyce Mills, Jobyna Ralston, and Dorothy Manners. To celebrate “Hollywood’s new pride,” the actresses handed out Chinese favors such as dolls, fans, and bridge score pads to the hundreds of eager shoppers who cleaned out every shelf in the market within hours.

Entertainment was provided by KMTR radio personalties (with Bill Sharples as master of ceremonies), as well as the eight-piece all-female orchestra The Bandette.

Mandarin Market grand opening
Mandarin Market's grand opening on March 23, 1929

But as Vine Street changed, so did the Mandarin’s certainty. In 1931, the Hollywood Building Corporation acquired the specialty market. Less than a year later, it was purchased by a Malibu-based capitalist for $175,000—and by 1934, the Mandarin was ancient history.

In 1938, the space re-opened as the Hollywood Ranch Market, a 24-hour one-stop shop that attracted local characters, particularly during the graveyard shift. Celebrity sightings ranged from Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner to Orson Welles in his later years.

Hollywood Ranch Market
Hollywood Ranch Market (LAPL)

To increase the Ranch’s square footage, a roof was extended over the Mandarin’s front court. Still, its unmistakable pagodas could be seen flanking the market.

For four decades it was a hotspot, until 1980 when a fire gutted the Hollywood Ranch Market. Two years later, what remained was demolished and replaced by another strip of retail shops, designed by Edward H. Fickett ... although today, the mini mall hardly looks like an example of the master architect’s work.

Vine and La Mirada
Vine and La Mirada today (Google)


bottom of page