In September 1973. at the age of 8, I had started taking piano lessons. And a trip to Wallichs Music City in Torrance, at the corner of Hawthorne and Artesia.meant another chance to supply my voracious appetite for new sheet music. (Nearly 40-years later, I still have many of those John Brimhall piano books!)
Glenn Everett Wallachs, the son of Union Pacific accountant Oscar Wallichs, was born on August 9, 1910 in Grand Island, Nebraska. He became highly interested in both electronics and music. At the age of 10 he built a tiny radio inside of a sewing thimble.
In 1926, the family moved to North Hollywood. Glenn continued to tinker with radios and music. Glenn installed an Atwater-Kent radio in a Model T Ford, possibly the first car radio in Los Angeles. He made some money by installing radios in cars. During the Depression he worked a series of jobs selling radios until 1940, when he opened a music store, called “Music City,” at the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood.
In 1946, Glenn left the business to his brother Clyde and, with singer Johnny Mercer and actor Buddy DeSylva, founded Capitol Records. Clyde instituted several innovations. He put the records in self service bins, allowing customers to select their own records rather than having a clerk retrieve them from a back room. More famously, he installed listening booths where people could hear records before deciding to buy them.. Splashy newspaper advertisements, catchy radio jingles, and a hit chart showing which records sold the most during a given week, attracted an increasing number of customers to Wallichs’ Music City.
About one third of the stores’ floor space was devoted to records and tapes, another third to consumer electronics (televisions and stereos) and the remainder to pianos, organs, band instruments and sheet music. The 1950s and 60s brought expansion to various suburban locations—Lakewood, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, West Covina and Torrance, with plans to open stores in Santa Monica and Pasadena.
Wallachs evenopened a store in Downtown Los Angeles, but it was not particularly successful and it closed in 1964. Like Glenn’s experiment with installing a radio in a car, Wallichs’ Music City was the product of the Automobile Age.
The Sunset and Vine location was the place to be. Musicians, actors and other celebrities could be seen shopping or perhaps listening to the latest records in one of the booths. A customer might walk in off the street, and see Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or maybe even Elvis. A young Frank Zappa worked part time at the store. Radio DJ’s often broadcast their shows live from the store. It was the place to be for anyone in the music industry….or who wanted to become a part thereof.
But “Our” Wallichs’, the store in Torrance, was far away from the glamor of Hollywood. To me and my family, it was a place to buy sheet music, reeds and other band instrument supplies, and maybe take a look at the new pianos, organs and televisions on display. Wallichs was also my first encounter with a “video game” called “Pong…”
A Nat King Cole Store in a Led Zeppelin World
My last visit was probably late 1976, to buy a music book for a concert….I didn’t know it at the time, but Wallichs’ day in the sun was fading fast. One source of competition, at least for recorded music, was discount stores such as White Front, Gemco, K-mart, and Zodys. These stores would sell an LP for as low as $4, while Wallichs kept to its standard price of about $7, insisting that customers would pay the higher price because of the higher level of service. Well, not necessarily.
In the 1970s, stores specializing in stereo equipment (Pacific Stereo, Federated Group), recorded music (Tower Records, Wherehouse, Licorice Pizza) and keyboard instruments (Colton Piano and Organ, Sherman Clay) came on the scene. These new stores attracted a younger and hipper crowd. Wallichs Music City now just seemed old fashioned, full of older console-style television sets and stereos, in an era where portables and component sets were becoming more popular. And the clerks still wore jackets and ties as they did in the 1950s, whereas a Wherehouse or Licorice Pizza salesperson would likely be wearing blue jeans.
The famed listening booths fell victim to the increasing costs of maintaining the demo collection—and people shoplifting the records.
Finally in 1976 Wallichs started offering discounted prices on records, got rid of the jackets and ties on clerks, and renovated stores. But to no avail. In March 1977, Wallichs Music City, nearly $1.6 million in debt to suppliers, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Wallichs’ Music City closed its doors for good in January 1978, save for one or two liquidation sales. The site of the Sunset and Vine store was, for a time, a studio for the “Merv Griffin Show.” It’s now a mixed use development, consisting of apartments and a shopping center.
The shakeout in both the electronics and music worlds continued through the years. 30+ years after the demise of Wallichs, we buy our electronics at Best Buy, our musical instruments and supplies at Sam Ash, and our recorded music … online, mostly.
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Leap, Norris. “One Day Wallichs Awoke, Found Himself Millionaire.” Los Angeles Times, Jan 5, 1959.
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Alpert, Don. “Stereo.” Los Angeles Times, Feb 28, 1960
“$127 Million in Downtown Projects Okd.” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1960
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Zhito, Lee. “Wallichs’ Music City Lifts Policy; to Cut LP Prices.” Billboard, January 30, 1961, p. 2
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Zhito, Lee. “Earphone Doubles Music City Sales.” Billboard, November 6, 1961, p. 22
“Music Firm Will Build In Torrance.” Los Angeles Times, Jun 30, 1963
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“6,000 Attend Store Opening.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 24, 1963
“Coast Chain Starts Selling Components.” Billboard, December 14, 1963
“Business Wrap-Up.” Billboard, July 4, 1964, p. 35
Tiegel, Eilot. “Los Angeles Market Booms.” Billboard, Oct 17, 1964, p. 40
“Airway Saturation.” Billboard, Oct 17, 1964, p. 40
“Organ Hobby Lesson Plan Now Available.” Los Angeles Times, Apr 4, 1965
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Weber, Bruce. “8th Wallichs is Opened.” Billboard, Nov 11, 1967, p. 62
Turpin, Dick. “New Kind of ‘Downtown’ in Making.” Los Angeles Times, Mar 10, 1968
Freedland, Nat. “Wallichs’ ‘New Look’ Spurs Music City Chain’s Profits.” Billboard, December 18, 1971, p. 3
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Dexter, Dave. “Glenn E. Wallichs—A Fond Farewell.” Billboard, January 8, 1972, p. 3
“Wallichs Music Filed For Protection Under Chapter 11.” Los Angeles Times, Mar 9, 1977.
Sippel, John. “Wallichs Stores File Bankruptcy.” Billboard, Mar 19, 1977, p. 10
Siegel, Barry. “It’s Bankruptcy Blues at Music City.” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1977
Sippel, John. “Investor Quartet Refloats Wallichs.” Billboard, May 14, 1977, p. 5
Tepper, Ron. “The Eyes of the Industry Watch L.A. Retailing.” Billboard, November 15, 1980, p. LA-46
Ryon, Ruth. “Merv Griffin Buys Hollywood Corner.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 3, 1983
Ryon, Ruth. “Developers Gamble on Spring Fever.” Los Angeles Times, Oct 12, 1986.
Grein, Paul. “The Story So Far, From the Beginning.” Billboard, Jun 13, 1992, p. 48
AMERICAN MONTAGE – 151 “Long-Lost Hollywood” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxxH-GWmNJo