He quickly went from working in a grocery store, to designing a grocery store, to building and owning a grocery store, to owning a small chain of grocery stores. According to Vernon’s son (my father Keith), Vernon’s desire to succeed in the grocery business was a large part of the reason he moved his family from Washington state to California, first to Santa Barbara, and then to Van Nuys.
In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far about the origin of his unique Delamart chain of grocery stores. I’m just at the very beginning of my research on this topic, so I welcome any help you may be able to give. Please share any information you may have on the Delamarts in the comment section at the bottom of this post.
On a recent trip to Olympia, I visited two of my grandfather’s old stores (both still standing, and both still serving as grocery stores). One of these is now called the Frog Pond Grocery:
The other grocery he worked in is now called Spud’s Produce Market, but had previously been called the Wildwood Serve-U Market, and before that it was called Johnson’s Market:
This latter market is located in a little shopping center called the Wildwood Shopping Center. According to a local history pamphlet that I found posted in the modern Spud’s Produce Market,
This precursor of the modern shopping center was designed in 1938 by noted Olympia Architect Joseph Wohleb for G.C. Valley. The facility originally had a grocery store, pharmacy and flower shop. The building is a distinctive Art Moderne style with its rounded lines and streamlined appearance. Notice the glass block transoms in the rounded northwest corner section which features a shallow, metal conical roof, decorated with chevron trim and a tall central finial. All of these elements are typical of the Art Moderne style.
The rounded northwest corner of the building that is referred to above is shown in the photo below:
I believe that the novel design of this shopping center—specifically this rounded section—had a profound impact on my grandfather’s ideas for his future and the future of grocery stores.
By 1948, Vernon, his wife Dorothy, and their son Keith left Olympia and travelled south to Santa Barbara, California, where Vernon hoped to open a grocery store of his own. I don’t know much yet about his grocery business while in Santa Barbara, so if you add anything to this story, please leave a comment below.
By the early 1950s, Vernon and his family (now enlarged by the addition of younger son Gary) moved to the San Fernando Valley in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Around 1952, Vernon designed and built a hexagonal grocery store that he called the Delamart superette. The hexagonal design was efficient for both shoppers and for staff—the entire store could be run by a single employee.
Here are a couple of photos of the original Delamart in the San Fernando Valley at the corner of Victory Boulevard and Hazeltine Avenue (in Van Nuys), taken around 1957–1958:
After a successful first four years, Delamart was a proven success and founder and president Vernon Black and vice president Joe Rinaudo decided to offer 135,000 shares of stock at $1.00 per share to finance three new stores.
Thursday, November 22, 1956 (Torrance Herald):
The following photos document the construction of Delamart #2 at the corner of Woodman Avenue and Moorpark Street in Sherman Oaks:
I don’t yet know where Delamarts #3 and #4 were planned to be built (I presume that they were never built, but I’m not sure). Delamart #1 is long gone, but I was pleased to see that Delamart #2 still stands, only slightly modified. It’s now a Manny’s burgers, and the only major architectural change was the addition of a dining extension to the side of the hexagon that’s closest to the intersection:
I have a copy of the article on Vernon and the Delamart that was published in the NARGUS bulletin (National Association of Retail Grocers of the U.S.). As soon as I locate and scan it, I’ll share that with you in a part 2.
In the meantime, if you can add anything at all to the Delamart story, please let me know by leaving a comment below.