What’s That Building? Retro Gallery on La Brea


Twelve years ago, Ara Tavitian moved his vintage shop Retro Gallery to a midcentury building at 1100 South La Brea Avenue. The black iron fence surrounding the two-story showroom has casually deterred me from visiting what looks like an incredible collection of vintage lighting, ceramics, and glass. Tavitian says designers Kelly Wearstler, Paul Fortune, and Sasha Emerson regularly trek behind the spiky gate so why didn’t I? The store is relocating to Washington and Fairfax later this month and a “Blowout Moving Sale” sign caught my eye. I took a second look at the two-story former office building and wanted to know more.

The original building permit from 1958 lists Maxwell Starkman (1921-2004) as architect so I talked to his son David to learn more. “My dad did a lot of work with a contractor named Marvin Wagner. Downstairs was his office and upstairs was my dad’s office. It was all black and white with concrete block walls with pieces of the block sticking out. I think over the years most have been knocked off,” Starkman remembered. “Originally there was no fence around the building and it had typical 1960s tropical landscaping.”

Starkman outgrew the space and moved to Beverly Hills in 1964. Later tenants included architects Berman & Kogan, TV “traventure” host Bill Burrud, and radio station KGFJ. When Tavitian bought the building he was told that architect William Pereira designed the space. “The plans said Pereira, maybe he redid it at one point.” Starkman said he not only had childhood memories of him and his brothers playing at dad’s office, but original Kodachrome slides from 1961. Check them out below.

I have not explored the architecture of Maxwell Starkman in depth, but I dig what I’ve seen so far: the membership store that became Fry’s Electronics in Burbank, Melodyland in Anaheim, and the glossy 70s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters in Beverly Hills. Starkman deserves a closer look, as does his former office building. Tavitian’s collection is there until September 15. After that, the building will become home to the graphic design firm Brand New School. “I hope they bring it back,” says Tavitian. “To more original than I did.”