Notes From Your City Historian
by Julie Lugo Cerra
On September 20, the 80th anniversary of Culver City’s incorporation, the CCHS unveiled a bronze marker commemorating the Helms Building at Historic Site #9, and in typically Helms style, members of the Helms family attended in support but declined to be introduced over their workers. It was wonderful to have so many current and former elected officials present and a strong showing of our membership.
Among those thanked by CCHS Historic sites chair Sam Cerra were the Marks family (building owner) for their cooperation and generosity, and those who helped with the event: Stu Freeman, Pat Culver Battle (daughter of city founder Harry Culver), our Madrina Clarita Young (who provided the 1917 California flag which has been used to unveil each of our markers), and Mayor Albert Vera and the City. Randi Joseph, our City Public Information Officer, was on hand to distribute free 80th anniversary commemorative pins. Special thanks also went to Lee Bixler and the staff of the Antique Guild for hosting the reception which followed the unveiling.
A Brief History
Poor health caused Paul Helms to retire from running his small bakery in Buffalo, NY and move his family to California in 1926.
Helms began to build the Zig-Zag Moderne style structure between Washington and Venice Boulevards in 1930, and on March 2, 1931, he opened Helms Bakery with 32 employees and 11 coaches. In 1932, Helms won a contract to supply bread for the Olympics in Los Angeles. The early coaches sported the Olympic symbol which is still recognizable on the historic sign atop the structure. With Helms’ keen interest in athletics, it was not surprising that he established the Helms’ Athletic Foundation with the help of his assistant Bill Schroeder, and Culver City’s Director of Human Services, Syd Kroenthal, which became a renowned athletic museum/library. Helms’ support to the community is evident still at Culver High School’s Helms Field where the Centaurs play football.
Over the years, the bakery grew and the familiar whistle of the Helms Coaches was a delight as the vehicles traversed the Southland as far north as Fresno, east to San Bernardino, south to San Diego and up to the moon! In 1969, an aggressive marketing campaign garnered Helms a contract to furnish the first bread on the moon, carried by Apollo 11.
It has often been claimed that the secret of Helms’ success lay in the admiration and respect of his employees, whom he referred to as his “co-worker family” and addressed by first name. A major employer in the city, Helms Bakery closed in August 1969 due to changed lifestyle patterns and economic pressures.
The Helms Building is still a viable commercial industrial center whose occupants advertise as “The Helms Furniture District” and includes the Antique Guild (which displays Helms memorabilia), Homestead House, The Jazz Bakery and much more!