Verdugo Views: The namesake of Stepper Auditorium
The old Stepper Auditorium building at 220 Broadway was home to the Verdugo Club for many years. It was sold to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency in the late 1970s to make way for Glendale Galleria II. The Nordstrom department store is presently on the site. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Glendale Public Library) (December 13, 2012)
Stepper’s building opened in 1928 with four stories, 24 office spaces and, on the second floor, the “largest and most beautiful auditorium or social hall in Glendale,” as glowingly described in a booklet Stepper produced at the time. “The conception of this building has been largely shaped by the public spirit and civic pride of the owner who has not allowed the usual consideration of maximum returns for the investment to influence his decision.”
Glendale then had a population of 78,000 and described itself as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Stepper’s booklet boasted that the city showed a population increase of 387% between the 1910 census and the 1920 census.
One of the reasons for the population increase was, of course, the Pacific Electric, which had been providing commuter train service between Glendale and Los Angeles for nearly a quarter of a century. By 1928 there were 72 such trains between the two cities, plus several bus lines connecting Glendale with other neighboring cities.
Stepper’s booklet bragged that, at the time the building opened, the rapidly growing city had 14 hotels, with rates ranging from $1 to $3.50. It also had more than 100 modern apartment houses providing furnished and unfurnished living spaces and 100 bungalow courts.
The booklet said the auditorium was perfect for dances, theatricals, private weddings and other events and had a kitchen capable of serving 1,000 people.
Stepper’s building was centrally located and very close to Central Avenue, which was 100 feet wide and without car tracks. “It is one of the most beautiful boulevards in all of Southern California. It is now becoming a most important business artery. That it is destined to become the main avenue of Glendale, there can be no doubt.’’
Stepper’s mention of car tracks was a reference to the Pacific Electric line on Brand Boulevard, which still had the trolley poles that had been installed when the line was built. They were removed, with much fanfare, in 1934, according to “Glendale Area History.”
The Verdugo Club moved into the second-floor auditorium in 1950 with 150 dues-paying members. Using a budget of about $35,000, the club remodeled its new home, adding a ceiling and creating a bar and club rooms in what had been the auditorium.
The club’s first president, John M. Lawson, told the Glendale News-Press, July 31, 1979, that money was so tight in those days that the club borrowed a liquor license from the old Glendale airport. “Eventually we got our own liquor license,” Lawson said, “but that was years later.”
When the club first leased the auditorium, Lawson said he talked the owner of the building into contributing $5,000 to the club in exchange for a slight increase in rent, which at the time came to $250 per month. In 1959, the club bought the building for $165,000.
Twenty years later, the club sold the building to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency for $450,000 according to the 1979 article.
Gina Moore comments on the Verdugo Views column of July 24, 2011, on the Lawson building on the southwest corner of Brand Boulevard and Wilson Avenue. “I remember it well, and too bad it is not longer there. You noted that it had been occupied by Kress. I remember Kress as being on the northwest corner of Brand and Wilson. I always bought my parakeets there at 50 cents each, and my grandmother and I would sit at their counter and order pie and coffee. We usually entered from the Wilson entrance, and they also had an entrance on Brand. I wonder when they moved across the street to the northwest corner?
When Webb's occupied the building, it was the only department store in Glendale except for J.C. Penney. It had wood floors, and the elevator was operated by an attendant. They occupied several floors. The beauty salon was on the mezzanine floor, and the store would open early for salon patrons. The basement floor had all the silver, crystal and china,and it’s where I registered for my wedding 40 years ago! As I recall, Webb's expanded south into more of the building as they grew. It was a magical place at Christmas, as was all of Brand with the tunnel of lights, and you could always tell where gifts had come from by the silver Webbs’ boxes!
I love to reminisce. My husband and I were born in Glendale and still live here.