Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Thoughts About a Great Art Store That... "Aint 'Dere No More!"

Look what I found!
I found this tag on a sketchbook from long ago. It sent me back to a time that now seems so foreign in so many ways. To all my Los Angeles friends, this can bring back some incredible memories though people in LA are accustomed to change with buildings torn down, businesses bellying up, and cultures and traditions uprooted. It is, sort of, the price one pays for all that "upward mobility. 

No looking back!

But to me, 1850 miles away and ten years gone from my SoCal life, finding this sent me back to that other world, in another life, so far away, like it was all a dream. But living in Louisiana, I felt no guilt wasting time and ruminating the past in all its "sunny SoCal glory!" 

I also found, while attempting to clear a path in the attic for the electrician to rewire my garage, in a box of some hard as a rock Windsor Newton goauche tubes that I had purchased at Clinton Art Supply on LaBrea in Hollywood, and again, a flood of memories came bursting forth like the jazz music that mellowed out from the store radio. Though I don't remember his name, the mustachioed attendant behind the Letraset counter would ask if you needed any assistance. Can you imagine what a business press type was back then? Clinton devoted a whole wall to the product, at one time! Always hassled, and aggravated trying to find a parking spot on LaBrea, the store had a calming effect even though it was usually against my best interests to chill out there.

I also included in that "stash from the past" was a box of about a dozen or so of "Daily Reminders" that I am just dying to page through. But that's another subject from another time, for another time!

In retrospect, it was always "Daniels" where I spent a whole lotta hours and also, a whole lotta money.  The building seemed to beckon one like a great big invitation to explore. Besides having a knowledge- able and helpful staff, they had just about everything a professional artist could ask for including art and design books and magazines. I once asked one of the regular salesman if I could order the then out of print book,"Creative Illustration" by Andrew Loomis and he was kind enough to send me to the Hollywood Bookstore where I might find a used copy. I used to huddle back in the stacks sifting through CA's to steal an idea or just get inspired. I'd spend hour upon hour there sometimes meeting colleagues and artist friends that I hadn't seen in years. 

To me, it was like a great Parthenon of art where new things could be discussed or discovered and the "latest" seemed to appear only moments away, just around the corner! I loved it.

Many times, when working in the Mid Wilshire or MacAtthur Park agencies, one could phone in a order of supplies and get it delivered, or you could run in and purchase some markers and get out in time to have a burger and a large lemonade at Casey's on Sixth Street. In the seventies and early eighties, H.G. Daniels served not only the major ad agencies and design studios, but also Otis and Art Center schools.

I guess there are many reasons why a scene like Daniels ceased to exist. There was talk in the ad community that some people were being mugged late in the evening as they left work. I actually had my Honda Accord broken into after hours while working at Ketchum in the Mid Wilshire area. It didn't take long for trendy agencies to move further west towards the Miracle Mile, Santa Monica or even, Orange County. Vagrants, bums, and people of questionable integrity roamed the neighborhood surrounding Daniels. The parking lots now had to be lit and security guards escorted patrons in and out of the store. It got to be a little bit scary to go there late in the evening, but I suspect the big killer of Daniels was the coming of computers. Who needs to learn how to use a ruling pen, or paint a straight line, or draw with an ellipse guide, much less have to purchase these tools? I'm not sure exactly when H.G. Daniels closed its doors forever, but I am sure its closing negatively affected not only the art community of downtown LA, but entire neighborhood surrounding it.

 There's a song created and made even more popular here in New Orleans by a musician who lost everything except his bass guitar in Hurricane Katrina. The song is bittersweet tune entitled, "Aint Dere No More!" where the locals all lament the loss of stores, restaurants, businesses, neighborhoods and, to an extent, a culture that once was such a part of our lives as New Orleanians.

Accidentally seeing the price tag on an old sketchbook reminds me that the Daniels I knew and loved ain't 'dere no more! Like so many things in our lives, nothing more needs to be said.

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III


  1. I was a student at Otis/Parsons in the early 1980's and I well remember the H.G. Daniels store. H.G. Daniels was just a few blocks down from our dormitory (a former residential care home) on West 6th St. I bought most of my art supplies at H.G. Daniels including a beautiful art compass set that I still have. Even though I did buy some specialty papers at another art store, McManus and Morgan, a few blocks over I still did most of my art school shopping at H.G. Daniels. I no longer live in L.A. but I have fond memories of that store and was sorry to see it no longer exists.

    1. The store never really recovered from the exodus of the ad agencies in the seventies! The computer was the coup 'd grace.

  2. Thanks, it was more the violence of the neighborhood that made us decide to close the store which had started in 1941. My grandfather, H.G. Daniels started in Chelsea in NYC and then traveled across all N. America selling art and architectural materials from 1924 to 1941 when he opened the store at 621 S. Grand (now site of Casey's Bar) before moving to 2543 W. 6th Street. My grandfather always wanted the store to be an experience beyond a conventional art supply store and I think he succeeded. McManus and Morgan is still there and I am close to Richard Gibson, son of Ted Gibson Framing. We were very busy until the end, we finally sold the building in 1996 and closed, paid all our vendors and said goodbye. I am the N. American importer for da Vinci Brushes Germany, so still immersed in the world of art materials (of professional quality).
    Gregory Daniels
    Los Angeles, Ca