When Reagan went to Buffums’

An anonymous (why? why?) reader writes:

“Your Jan. 2 column with nostalgic reminiscences of the Pomona/Ontario area was fascinating. I was pleased that Mr. Ruh included Buffums’ in his list of once-upon-a-time stores; however, Buffums’ was much more than white-gloved ladies having tea in the Palomares Room.

“Ronald Reagan visited Buffums’ in the fall of 1965 to promote his book ‘Where’s the Rest of Me?’ Elizabeth Taylor dropped in to buy travel tickets, taking time from filming scenes from ‘The Sandpiper’ in San Dimas. Jacqueline Kennedy assigned someone to select and send a gift to an acquaintance in Claremont. Mrs. Groucho Marx purchased children’s clothes on occasion.

“Oh yes, Buffums’ was the best of the best. And I am sure other former employees have more tales of this magical store. This, of course, is from a former Buffums’ employee.”

Nice of you to write, Former. He/she enclosed a photocopy of the Reagan book’s title page, inscribed as follows: “With gratitude for a pleasant afternoon & Best Wishes, Ronald Reagan.”

Buffums’ was a classy SoCal department store chain — motto: “Southern California’s Most Gifted Store” — and the Nordstrom of its day.

It was owned by the same family that produced Dorothy Buffum Chandler, without whom we wouldn’t have the Music Center in downtown L.A. The Pomona store was built in 1962 on Palomares Street between Second and Third streets by architect Welton Becket (who also designed the Music Center…hmm). It marked the east end of the brand-new pedestrian mall.

Charles Phoenix’s book — you’ve already ordered a copy, right? — has a full page on Buffums’. He describes the ornate interior in some detail. The store held on despite downtown’s long decline, finally closing circa 1991, and as Phoenix notes, “the decorative furnishings were sold to the highest bidder.”

The building was extensively remodeled and now is part of the Western University of Health Sciences, an osteopathic medical school.

Have memories of Buffums’? Share them below..

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  • jeannie

    I remember the wonderful Santa Claus who was at the Pomona Buffums’ for several years in the late ’60s and early ’70s. My son was a small child and going there at Christmas time to visit Santa was a special event for all of us. No other “Santa” could ever compare, then or now.

  • Renee

    Buffums’ was my first job. I worked there through the ROP (Regional Occupational Program) as a high school student. In addition to earning a good hourly wage, I enjoyed working in various departments and meeting both employees and customers. They gave me really good training and a solid foundation to build on for my future employment.

    [Thanks, Renee. -- DA]

  • Tad Decker

    Ah, Buffums’…when it closed (along with the whole chain, I believe), it was the end of an era for downtown Pomona. Even to the end, in the Buffums’ store one could sense the optimistic vision that the city leaders of the early 1960s had for the Pomona Mall and the entire downtown. The feel of the store was akin to that which can still be experienced in the Pomona civic center and the Washington Mutual bank building (Home Savings).

    One of the noteworthy parts of the Pomona Buffums’ was the Palomares Room restaurant, on the second floor on the west side. Even when most of the Mall was derelict and essentially abandoned, I remember that the Palomares Room would be packed at lunch time.

    The entrance to the restaurant from the store proper was framed with fanciful open ironwork, with birds (of iron) perched on the artful leaves and branches. The floor of the entrance area was, I believe, of travertine marble, with a large medallion in the center comprised of colored marble, and forming a letter “p.”

    Along the walls of the dining room was a long running benchseat, overstuffed and covered in a sort of satin.

    The most notable decorative feature of the restaurant was the mural which spanned the entire west wall (seen straight ahead as you entered). It was one of Millard Sheets’ works, and I have heard that it was saved when Western University gutted the building for use as one of its campus buildings. Does anyone know what became of this Sheets work of art?

    Finally, I thought it might be of interest to note that there are still several Millard Sheets murals extant in the Pomona Valley. The ones that I know of are located in the Washington Mutual building in Pomona, and in the PFF Bank & Trust buildings in Pomona (Main branch), Claremont and Upland (Foothill).

    [Tad, good work on this, especially the Palomares Room description. -- DA]

  • Jon Scott

    My grandmother sold children’s shoes at Buffums’ for many years. I spent a lot of time in the store over the years. I remember buying my first pair of bell bottoms in the men’s department. They shrank about 3 inches the first time they were washed. Last pair of pants I bought from there. I must have paid close to 10 bucks. Big money back then.

    [For some reason I'm now thinking of the classic Derek and the Dominoes song "Bell Bottom Blues." -- DA]

  • April Patterson

    My favorite memories of Buffums was the french dip in the restaurant. Never had one as good since. Also as a little girl I loved the mint sticks covered in chocolate.

  • Michael

    I remember the Buffums of Pomona – a truly fond memory………Does anyone remember the little “tram” (long golf cart with benches) that used to take you from one end of the mall to the other for 10 cents? I miss those days……….then after the fun filled days at the mall – you could hop on your bike and get a “Taylor-Made” do-nut on the corner of palomares and mission streets ——– from Michael age 46

    [That "tram" sounds like a nice touch. -- DA]

  • Amy

    My mother worked for Buffum’s and I remember her talking about the french dip that they had in the restaurant. We tried to replicate it many times and we came pretty close. I also remember her talking about the pink champagne ice cream that she would send my father for when she had a craving…

    The only time I went to Buffum’s was when I was a teenager and they were in the process of liquidating one last store in Long Beach (I don’t remember where, we were on a trip back for a visit). There was really nothing left to buy. I do however have a dictionary that my mother inscribed with the date that she bought it and the fact that she bought it at Buffum’s.

  • david dale

    My friend and I showed up sometime in October 1959, we needed a job, our thought was Xmas was coming and perhaps we could be temps for the holidays. We got a position as sales people.

    Little did I know, this would be my home for several years. I went from sales, to area manager, to buyer. The people there were family. In fact, I met my wife to be at Buffums.

    This was the beginning of a retail/wholesale career in mens wear for me. When I reflect on Buffums, it truly was the beginning of my career and the fondness I felt for those fellow employees was never replaced as I moved on. I loved them.

    David Dale

  • Graham Sanderson

    Buffums….never visited any of the stores myself, as I live in Scotland, but I do have a special affection for the name. Way back in 1972 a friend of my mother’s gave us a circular drinks tray, with a black surface and a pierced silver balustrade surround, as a wedding present. It lives in a grey felt ‘Buffums’ storage bag. The tray looks particularly elegant with champagne flutes on it and is regularly used, to this day. A family heirloom in the making you might say.

  • Kathleen Rose

    I worked at the Fashion Valley, San Diego Buffum’s from 1974 to 1979. I started in the china, crystal and silver department for the Christmas season and stayed another 4 years moving to the giftware department (remember the year of the pet rock?) and finally to cosmetics.

    The highlight of working there was selling Dick Van Dyke a Royal Doulton figurine. I was so nervous gift wrapping it! He was so tall, warm and friendly — exactly the way you would always picture him to be. The store served a plethora of local celebrities and wealthy folks. The local Portuguese families would come shopping with their white gloved servants carrying their purchases for them.

    I have to concur regarding the french dip sandwich. Never had one better since. When the company liquidated, the Fashion Valley site became a Saks and lost its old-fashioned elegance and charm. Very sad.

  • Linda Frost

    Buffums Memories:

    I remember the Palomares Room well. I took my grandmother shopping at Buffums often. Her way of showing her appreciation was to take my two children and me to lunch. From the time they were infants, we regularly took them out for meals. They learned restaurant manners in the Palomares Room.

    I also shopped for my wedding china and silver in the china department. Shirley, the lady who worked there for many years, also entered her table decor at the Pomona Fair. I would go search out her tables, and hey were always beautiful.

    Childrens wear and shoes, as well as womens wear, received plenty of my business, too. Another artifact I have is a regulator clock that I purchased about 1980. It had a lifetime guarantee and is still going strong. Alas, it outlasted Buffums, a real piece of local history. (And the marriage, I might add!)

  • Kevin Short

    I loved Buffum’s, not just Pomona’s. As with all good things, they always seem to end. This was when life was good in So Cal and you could actually make a decent wage working at these stores. The people were the best and were average decent folk without being snobby like some of the other bigger chains.

  • Janine Miles Cone

    I sure have fond memories of Buffum’s as a little girl. I was too young to remember where it was located, but I would guess the one Mom always took me to was located in Pomona. I actually was born in Pomona in 1949, but lived in Carbon Canyon until 1955 when my father passed away and Mom and I moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1956 where she had two married brothers and a married sister living at the time.

    Anyway, I really liked going to Buffum’s with Mom to shop. I remember eating in the fancy restaurant several times. That must have been where I got my first French dip sandwich. Most people have a nice photograph of themselves sitting on Santa’s lap that was taken at some big department store. Well, not me. My favorite photo that I have, and believe it was taken at Buffum’s, is of me sitting on the Easter Bunny’s lap when I was about 4 years old. I was even wearing my favorite dress with the “secret pockets” (you know, the pockets that are sewn in the seam of a dress and don’t look like the dress even has any pockets. I called those “secret pockets”).

    One day Mom and I went to a fashion show being held in the restaurant. We signed up for one of the door prizes and my name was drawn. I was about 10 or 11 years old. I had won a cute outfit that consisted of a white blouse and black corduroy capris. I was so excited because I had never won anything before and I really liked the outfit. Needless to say, I wore it a lot.

    I also remember Buffum’s having lots of nice merchandise and the good food. Mom and I always were dressed up when we went shopping there. Well, those are my fond memories of Buffum’s. I was hoping to go there again the next time I got to California. I live in South Dakota these days. In fact, moved here in 1971 and we raised our six children here. I will be sure and tell them all about Buffum’s.

    [Thanks for contributing all the way from South Dakota, Janine! -- DA]

  • bob House

    Great Buffums memories, Janine! Since you lived in Carbon Canyon — and if you have a free couple of hours (there are lots of posts) — you should check out the “Sleepy Hollow/Green Mist” thread on this blog.

    [It's a doozy. -- DA]

  • Mark

    I grew up in San Pedro and going to Buffums in downtown Long Beach as a kid was always a pleasure. The store was elegant and the neo-Greek restaurant on the top floor was lovely. Strangely, I remember the restrooms were in the parking structure not the store itself.

    We also visited the Peninsula Center Buffums when it opened in the late ’60s, small but delightful. Let’s not forget The Broadway, May Co, Bullock’s, and the middle stores Ohbach’s, Penney’s, Monkey Wards, Sears and the dime stores…

    I even worked for May Co for about 2-3 years. The department store may not have been competitive and needed to adapt or change but shopping was more of a pleasure, not a search for a bargain. And maybe I’m sentimental of my youth, but Macy’s doesn’t seem to fit and Nordstrom’s a bit pretentious.

  • William

    In the early ’60s, my mom worked next door to Buffums Long Beach, in the Bank of America building, for Plowman Accounting Services, and at lunch time almost every day she would go next door to Buffums and buy something, from a wallet or purse to shoes. She had a Buffums charge card, when they were still made from aluminum!!

    Then about 1966 I started working in the 4 or 5 story Auto Port, the parking structure across the alley, on 1st street, where Mrs Buffums and Floyd, the chauffeur, would drive in and park the limousine in his special spot. Sometimes Floyd would hang out in the Auto Port while he waited for Mr. Buffum. Oh and I still have my Buffums Charge Card, but it’s the plastic one.

  • Gwenn

    I lucky enough to have worked for Buffums for 8 years. From 1980 to 1988. I started in the Management Trainee Program, hired by John Hunt himself. I worked in both Long Beach stores, Santa Ana, La Habra, Westminster, Newport Beach, and while in the buying office traveled to all the stores on behalf of the men’s department. I can’t ever remember needing an alarm clock to get up to go to work, it was that much fun. I worked my way up to become a store manager by the age of 30, starting at the Santa Ana store, then on to the Westminster store, then the flagship Long Beach store. It was such a pleasure. I have stories to last a lifetime of the customers and the staff. It was such a supportive group of people to work with. Never have I seen that again. It truly was a family. I think the customers felt it too.

  • Marcy

    My first memory of Buffums is when my Mom took me there to buy a winter coat for me. They were having a sale. That is the only reason we went, because of the sale. I don’t believe I ever got anything there, as a child, that was not on sale. We couldn’t afford regular price. It was a beautful camel coat with tie belt, I will never forget it. And I loved nice clothes from that point on. Buffums had the nicest.

    Years later, in the late 70′s, I was hired to the Ladies Shoe Dept at the Rolling Hills/Palso Verdes Buffums. I continued to work there until the chain went out of business in 1991. I still have the Buffums gift boxes I use for storage. They always had the best gift boxes and real ribbon! My family love to receive gifts in them, too!

  • Marion

    Just out of high school got a job at the Long Beach store in 1961, December. I lived in Orange County and had to take the Greyhound bus to work. Coming to Long Beach Buffum’s was always a treat as a child. Even after getting full time employment elsewhere I continued to work at Buffum’s during the Christmas holidays for a couple of years.

    There was something so “special” about this store. From the valet parking structure, the dining room, the knowledgable associates, and yes even the “real boxes”. I was so sorry to hear about them closing.

  • Gretchen Whisler

    I was the secretary to Mr. Vaile G. Young (President, and ultimately Chairman of Buffums’) from 1968 to 1970, having been hired by Irene Meskimen (Head of Personnel in those days) in 1966.

    Born in Long Beach in the ’40s, I remember my mother taking me to shop there from the time I was about four years old. My first memory is of seeing Mr. Harry Buffum walking about on the main floor when I was about six. There was a stained glass window in the transom section of the Broadway entrance, showing a sun shining from one corner over waves crashing on a beach.

    I remember in the late 1960s that Buffums’ wasn’t decorated for the holidays (we called it Christmas then) until the day after Thanksgiving, and then it was a big deal to “unveil” the store windows which faced Broadway and also Pine Avenue.

    Buffums’ finally began opening on Sundays in the early 1970s due to competition. Buffums’ was steeped in old fashioned values, and shopping at THE department store was always a special treat. Saleswomen wore navy blue or black dresses with pearls up through the mid-1960s–there was a dress code–and assisted customers in the dressing rooms.

    When I’m at the mall shopping now, I am reminded of how much has been lost to us from the days of Buffums’!

  • Brenda Loomis

    Does anyone have the information to the Bank that handles Buffums retirees’ retirement plan?

    Thanks.

  • EllenLiebeDunlalp

    I grew up in Wilmington in the 1940′s and dearly remember many shopping trips to Buffums with my mother.

    I especially remember those fantastic ice-cream slices (vanilla ice cream and chocolate cake rolled like a jelly roll) served with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. What a treat! I can still remember sitting at the counter to enjoy those; I’ve never seen them anywhere else!