80-Year-Old Broadway Clothing Company to Close Shop

Ramiro Salcedo looks wistfully at the autographed black-and-white photos of actors hanging above racks of aging suits and mariachi costumes at the Victor Clothing Company on Third and Broadway.

During its heyday in the 1940s and '50s, long lines snaked down the aisles of the store seven days a week. The store's original owner, Leo "Sunshine" Fanarow, employed more than 50 workers and stocked 8,000 men's suits and some furs and dresses for women.

"All these things are gone now," said Salcedo, who co-owns the company with two others. "It's like losing a piece of history."

Prompted by sharply declining profits and closures of several neighboring businesses, Salcedo last week sold the building to Larchmont-based Clinton Financial Corp., which plans to convert the five-story structure into 24 live/work lofts and retail space—most likely a restaurant . Nathan Korman, who owns Clinton Financial, would not disclose the purchase price of the building, which is most recognizable for its exterior wall mural of Anthony Quinn as Zorba the Greek.

The building, at 242 S. Broadway, had been on the market since 1995, but the sale still came as a shock to Salcedo and the dozen or so artists who live and work in studios above the store. Both the tenants and Salcedo have been given a 30-day eviction notice and must move out by May 1.

"It's kind of like the feeling you get when you are in a car accident," said Neal Taylor, an artist and five-year resident. "But I think it's an inevitable way things shift in cities." Taylor and a number of the other residents said they expect to move away from Downtown to find affordable lofts.

Rainbow Room

The Victor Clothing Co. opened July 4, 1920, a few doors north of its current site. It was there that Fanarow, known for sporting top hats and singing opera on the sidewalk, rented out the so-called Rainbow Room in the building's basement for lavish Hollywood parties. He dressed celebrities such as Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Carmen Miranda. The store also drew customers through its nightly KFVD radio request program, broadcast from the building.

The Victor, which moved in 1964 after its first building was bought by the Los Angeles Times, is now a discount retail hodgepodge. Mariachi music mingles with the sound of a calculator adding up sales that are few and far between. Sale racks hawk slacks for $1.99 and ties for 99 cents. The stock of suits has dwindled to 130, and jewelry and bridal sales have become the store's mainstay.

Until about 10 years ago the store averaged $9 million in profits a year. Now, Salcedo said he's lucky if he nets $500,000. With the closure of the neighboring Million Dollar Theatre as a film and entertainment venue in the mid-'70s, Salcedo said only 10 to 12 customers visit each day. A smaller version of the store may reopen in Burbank or Eagle Rock, he said, where rents are cheaper and traffic heavier.

"I think what I'll miss most about the place is that we know the customers by name and they know us," Salcedo said. "Our clientele, particularly the old-timers, is asking us to let them know where we move because they will follow us."

A Colorful History

Later this month, Salcedo will auction off 50 canvas murals and portraits that had hung in the store, commissioned in the Õ70s and Õ80s to honor its mostly Latino clientele. Artists include John Valdez, Juan Garduno, Kent Twitchell, George Yepes and Francisco Cisneros. The collection of celebrity photos will be sold or donated to charity.

The company's artistic roots go deep. The building was the birthplace of the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) and the now-defunct High Performance, an influential arts magazine.

"There is a sense of history here," said Alfredo de Batuc, who has lived in the building for seven years. "I remember in the late '70s when I came to events at LACE, it was the center of activity. Just about everything happened here."

Now the block surrounding the Victor comprises a smattering of bridal shops, tax and legal services for immigrants and the Giant Penny Store. Salcedo said he sees no reason to hold onto the property any longer, despite a predicted turnaround in the area as an influx of developers build lofts, retail and hotels.

"Lots of stores have closed down," Salcedo said. "So many buildings are being renovated that we decided just to close."

Salcedo added, "Did you know that Mickey Rooney used to come here?"

Historic Victor Building to Be Converted to Lofts

by Kathryn Maese

The 80-year-old Victor Clothing Co. on Broadway and Third Street, which had been on the market since 1995, last week was sold to Clinton Financial Corp. for conversion into live/work lofts and retail space.

Nathan Korman, who owns Clinton Financial, said construction on the 24 lofts and 9,400 square feet of retail space will begin within the next two months. Korman, who also plans to restore the building's 1920s facade, said the Victor Clothing Lofts project will be completed within 12 months.

"The layout of the building lends itself to conversion," he noted. "It has large windows that are operable and an interior lightwell on the second floor for a rooftop garden."

The second through fifth floors will be converted to lofts ranging from 750-1,600 square feet. Rents will be comparable to those in the Old Bank District loft projects, which average $1 to $1.25 per square foot.

Korman said a 9,000-square-foot retail component may include a restaurant or clothing store on the ground floor, while a smaller 400-square-foot space will likely become a newsstand and coffee shop.

Plans are also under way to convert the basement into subterranean parking. "It looks doable, and other buildings Downtown have done it," he said.

Korman said he bought the building in part because of nearby loft developments and because of the building's four exterior wall murals painted by renowned Latino artists. Korman said he will not purchase any of the large-scale interior canvas murals.

Korman is no stranger to murals. Last year, he bought a building that housed 13 artists' lofts at 1427 E. Fourth St. It also included a famous wall mural by artist Norman Zammitt, called "Elysium." A two-year effort to save the mural from being white-washed by its former owner was ongoing when Korman bought the building and decided to preserve the work. The purchase gained the attention of the City Council and mayor, who declared Sept. 16 Norman Zammitt Day and commemorated the work with a plaque.

"It looks like we're developing a specialty for murals," Korman said. "When they presented the plaque, Sandy Bleifer, who was the broker for the Victor, approached me and told me the building was going on the market. I did my numbers and closed the deal."

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