Issue: Issue Fall 2009

Farmers Market's 75th Anniversary

by: James Bartlett

Farmers Market's 75th Anniversary

For many millions  of visitors – and several gen erations of Angelenos – this simple direction has meant a trip to one of the city’s most famous and lively landmarks, the Farmers Market. The Farmers Market is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year, and expects to play host to around 3,000,000 visitors – quite an achievement for a site that started life as a dairy farm, the only guests being of the four-legged variety.

The owner of the approximately 250 acres back then was Arthur Fremont Gilmore, and his life changed overnight when he struck oil in 1905. He gave up farming almost immediately, and over the following years his “Gilmore Island” became not only the source of Gilmore Oil, but home to the Farmers Market and sports of all kinds.

The late 1920s and early 1930s saw America struggling in the Depression, but for entrepreneurs Roger Dahlhjelm and Fred Beck this was the perfect moment to suggest their idea to Gilmore. He quickly agreed, and in July 1934 a number of farmers paid 50¢ and drove onto an empty patch of his land to sell fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables and more.

Customers soon came from miles around, and Blanche Magee began selling sandwiches out of her picnic hamper to the hungry farmers. She soon opened the very first restaurant there, and it’s still at the Farmers Market today.

Top: Gilmore Stadium was the site of dirt track midget car racing from the 1930s to the early 50s. Arthur Fremont Gilmore’s legacy is huge in motor racing.

Center: Lavish displays of fruits and vegetables provided endless photo ops, such as this one from the 1950s.

Gilmore had a passion for speed too, and in 1934 the Gilmore Stadium opened its doors to the public to showcase midget car racing (the cars, of course, were all powered by Gilmore gas). If you had less of a need for speed there were rodeos, wrestling and boxing, and the stadium was also home to the Bulldogs, the very first football team in Los Angeles.

In 1938, Gilmore Field was constructed, and became home turf for the Hollywood Stars, a minor league baseball team owned by celebrities Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, and Cecil B. DeMille. The stadium and field have long since disappeared, but you can read all about them and see pictures, souvenirs and memorabilia at display points around the Farmers Market today.

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Doris Leach (née Perez) has been part of the Farmers Market for many decades, having first worked at Du-Par’s Restaurant for nearly 40 years – “Everyone came in in those days - Glenn Ford, Lucille Ball, Raymond Burr” and then moving to Magee’s Nuts a few years ago:

“The Farmers Market has a great atmosphere, and is the friendliest place – I would  not have been there 46 years if it wasn’t! Everyone knows you by your first name, even some of the customers – and when I have coffee and doughnuts at Bob’s Doughnuts before work on the weekend, people always say hello.”Fresh Produce

Magee’s grinds about 100,000 pounds of fresh peanut butter - their #1 seller - every year, and the stall has been run for decades by Phyllis, Blanche’s daughter-in-law.

This kind of family affair is common at the Farmers Market, and perhaps none more so at Marconda’s Meats, where father and son team Dave and Louis DeRosa keep the customers happy.

Above: Of course fresh produce is in abundance, as always!

Right: A wide variety of cuisineCuisine is available to hungry visitors.

Below: The Gilmore Oil heritage is in evidence throughout the Market.

Louis’ grandfather (also named Louis) and his nephew Alfred Marconda opened the business in 1941, and customers have kept coming back ever since:

“The Farmers Market is different from any other place in the state. It’s like a step back to different times, and as modern and high-tech as life is, the flair is still for old-time service.”

Anniversary events are being held throughout 2009, with the highlight being a special week-long celebration beginning July 13. The Market’s official birthday party is on July 16, when there will be free cupcakes, a life-size Clock Tower cake and the biggest birthday card in L.A.

There’s also the Fall Festival on October 16-18 and the free Thursday and Friday night concerts in summer and spring. Pick up The Bugle newsletter for the latest information – it’s available free around the Farmers Market.

If you’re over 21 you can try a glass of the special Farmers Market 75th Anniversary ale, while food fans can sample everything from one of Bob’s Doughnuts (they bake around 1,000 a day) to shrimp at Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar or something from nearly 20 different ethnic or cultural cuisines including New Orleans gumbo, Brazilian barbeque and Indonesian/Malay Malaysian/Indian curry.

Carry your food to the upstairs Dining Deck for great views of the Hollywood Hills, and then take some recipes from the stalls home with you in the LA’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook by JoAnn Cianciulli, illustrated by Karl Petzke. There are also celebratory tee shirts, caps, mugs, stickers and tote bags available online or at the Farmers Market office.

Gilmore Oil HeritageFor the many visitors and Angelenos young and old, the Farmers Market is a second home, an outdoor office (Walt Disney worked on some of his Disneyland designs here) and a popular place to meet up, browse the 100 or so stalls, have dinner and a drink, or perhaps jump on the old-time trolley bus that rings its bell as it rolls casually down the tracks to the hip and happening shopping complex The Grove, which arrived next door a few years ago.

Keep your eyes open too, as you may well spot a famous face or two here – it seems that movie stars as well as tourists and locals are still saying “Meet me at 3rd and Fairfax”.  DH

Gilmore Oil Heritage