Although Henshey’s Department Store no longer exists, for many years it was an anchor to Santa Monica’s Central Business District, a retail mecca for Santa Monicans, and an evolving expression of changing tastes in architecture.
In the 1920s, when Henshey’s was born, Santa Monica was thriving both as a popular tourist destination and as home to a budding aviation industry and other businesses. Though Santa Monicans had long trekked to downtown Los Angeles for important shopping, Santa Monica’s downtown was at last coming into its own as a full-service retail center. Henshey’s Department Store, founded by Harry C. Henshey and his partners, was crucial to this change.
Henshey’s was Santa Monica’s first department store and, at four stories, one of the city’s tallest commercial buildings. The building itself was owned by Charles Tegner, one of Henshey’s partners. Tegner built many commercial structures in Santa Monica and was a key figure in the city’s business community at the time. The architect selected for the building was also well-known locally—Henry C. Hollwedel. Hollwedel began his career as an architect in New York but relocated here and completed many important commissions in Santa Monica, including the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club and the Mayfair Theatre.
The Henshey’s store, as originally designed by Hollwedel, was a steel frame and brick structure in the Beaux Arts Classical Revival style, a grandiose style often used in public buildings of the time. The original store on the corner of Santa Monica and Fourth featured bays of paired windows embellished with terra cotta details, as well as an imposing cornice and a terra cotta frieze. Santa Monica’s Outlook newspaper reported at the time that Henshey’s was “one of the best advertisements Santa Monica has ever had…its imposing bulk, towering over the adjacent structures around it arouses interest and speculation.” Even more important, Henshey’s showed that “Santa Monica is no longer a village with village stores and standards. She has grown up and is now a big city.”
Although Henshey’s was praised when first constructed, the building was altered significantly as the years passed and architectural fashions changed. In 1936 it underwent a major remodel as the ground floor and mezzanine were remade in the Streamline Moderne style so popular in the 30s. At the same time, a one-story extension (also Streamline Moderne) was annexed to the building along Fourth Street. By the 1960s this look too was outdated, and in 1962 both the original four-story building and the annex were entirely encased behind punched aluminum screens, changing their look dramatically.
Henshey’s Department Store occupied these buildings from 1925 until 1992 when recession and competition from other retailers led to the store’s closing. Then, in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the Henshey’s building and annex were damaged beyond repair and the landmark was demolished soon after.