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The Helms Bakery District: From historical bakery to modern retail and eatery center

The Original Helms Bakery Sign | After naming Helms Bakery the official Olympic bread, the company began using it as part of their name. Photo Cred: Larry, Muy Yum- Flickr

Aerial view of Helms Bakery in 1940 | The Helms Bakery in full operation. Much of the Culver City houses and infrastructures were built around Helms Bakery. Photo Cred: C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

Aerial view of Helms Bakery in 2012 | The current Helms Bakery District located in Culver City takes up the entire former bakery property. Photo Cred: WNM Realty

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By Joseph Krassenstein

The Helms Bakery District is seen today as a symbol of Culver City’s past and as a modern shopping center providing specialty home furnishing retailers, art and photography studios, bookstores, and restaurants.

The actual Helms Bakery closed in 1969 by the remaining Helms family. WNM, Inc. purchased the Helms Bakery property from the Helms family in 1972, reimagining the space to house specialty retailers and creative businesses by 1974. It’s been a continued evolution ever since. Today the Helms Bakery District is owned and managed by Walter N. Marks’s grandson, Walter Marks III.

The property was made contemporary. However, much of the original structure remains the same. The structure was made almost entirely of wood and has the original bakery high roofs. There are also glass windows all along the ceiling to let natural light in. The original slabs of concrete and pillars that support the building are the same ones used today.

When you walk around some of the large furniture stores within Helms, you can still feel that this was once a full functioning bakery. You can imagine large tables with bakers making dough, huge ovens baking all types of goods, and the Helmsman delivery trucks waiting to depart with their day’s amount of baked goods.

What Helms Bakery is today is more than just a shopping center but rather more of a modern market place.

“I would say we are more specialty, than mall. When people think traditionally of malls, they think of very cookie-cutter types of retailers, where as we are more specialty mom-and-pop type retailers and restaurants,” explained Angela Anthony, the marketing director of Walter N. Marks Realty.

The Helms District has also changed to become more pedestrian and neighborhood friendly.

“The property has undergone a lot of renovation. There used to be a road that ran right through the main area where most of the stores and restaurants fronts are, however that has been closed off and made into a pedestrian walkway. Wally Marks has also made a push to become more ecofriendly by installing a lot of solar power panels around the property and also by making sure that each retailer cares about quality and giving back to the community,” said Anthony.

The Helms District has also helped change some of the Culver City neighborhood that surrounds it.

“I would say I have seen a lot of change come to Culver City over the last eight years that I have worked here. It (Helms) has helped rejuvenate this part that is pretty much the tipping-end of the Culver City. I think it is great that they can draw people to this area,” said Ralph Kopland, the receptionist at Beit T’shuvah, a Jewish religion-centered alcohol, drug, gambling, and addiction rehabilitation center that is directly across the street from the Helms District.

Part of the Community

Helms Bakery was once a true member of the Southern California community providing homes in Los Angeles, homes as far north as Fresno, and homes as far south as San Diego with daily baked bread and other goods. But because of the advent of the supermarket and stocking up on products instead of delivering, it caused the bakery to go out of business in the late 60’s. However, the WNM Realty Company, which took over the property almost 40 years ago, continues to honor the bakery’s tradition of serving the community.

“What Wally Marks tries to do, is attract retailers and restaurants who match his philosophy which is quality food, or quality furniture, or quality art or whatever that is, and a sense of community. Becoming a real member of the community, not just that we are here and we happen to be in Culver City. We want someone who really embraces the community, “ says Angela Anthony.

To make sure that the Helms District continues to serve and be a part of the community they have been invited to a monthly neighborhood association meeting. The association is made up of a collective group of nearby property owners.

“They wanted to thank us for being such a great community partner. Helms brings a lot of business, helps with their property values, and the property is immaculate, making it a beautiful spot in the middle of the city for the community to enjoy,” said Anthony.

“We’ve had a great experience with Helms. I really love it over there and it's a very nice anchor for this area. I think it really reflects the culture of what Culver City is becoming. It is becoming very artsy and small business and I think they are a very good anchor for that,”
said Susannah Mitchell, the manager of M. Bird Hair Studio across the street from Helms.

The occupants that are now a part of Helms Bakery and in the surrounding area all bring a new touch to the old area. Especially the retailers, art studios, photo galleries, and restaurants within Helms, all have the same theme of being modern and of good quality while
still embracing the rich history that once made the district famous.

The original types of customers that Helms attracted were mainly people in their 30-50’s looking to buy home furniture and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. However with the arrival of the Culver City line on the metro link system, it has brought a lot more traffic into the area.

“We are now seeing more people come to Helms Bakery District because it is their destination. We are attracting a lot of different groups of people who like to come and stroll the area. Younger people are coming and enjoying the area, the restaurants, and Father’s Office bar,” said Anthony.

The Return of Helms Bakery

Many people from an older generation used to return to Helms Bakery and wonder what has become of it and if it is still functioning. They have always heard the upsetting news about the closure of the bakery, until now.

“Next year we are opening Helms Bakery back up in an empty space on the property. It will be a bakery and café run by Sang Yoon, the owner of Father’s Office and Lukshon, and also Sherry Yard, a world-renowned pastry chef,” said Angela Anthony. “We don’t have any of
the original recipes left, but what we do have are the memories from people, what items they had. They will try to bring it current and modern, but keep that same home baking feel to it”.

For many Angelenos, the memories of Helms Bakery are filled with the delicious baked breads, the pastries and doughnuts, the sound of the Helmsman’s whistle while making deliveries, and the neighborhood bakery in Culver City. Today, the Helms Bakery District continues to offer the city of Los Angeles with a place to enjoy quality retailers, restaurants, and art while still embracing the history that made the area famous.

An Evolution Timeline of Helms Bakery