By Maura Wall Hernandez
The distinct architecture of the original Helms Bakery, constructed in 1930, is still an important part of Culver City today. Its signature Zig Zag Moderne Art Deco look is only part of the reason why it’s designated a historic landmark, though. The restoration work kept this Los Angeles-area gem a place of interest. But there’s story behind what makes this part of Culver City a piece of the area’s history.
The Helms Bakery, owned by then newly-retired New York banker Paul Helms, opened its doors in 1931. Helms Bakery operated on a large scale, churning out 150 different types of items—none of which were sold in stores. Helms’ products were delivered directly to customers’ homes.
Helms Bakery Drivers honked a distinctive horn and residents could come out to the coaches where they’d find fresh-baked loaves, doughnuts, rolls and cookies available for purchase. Some Helmsmen, as the drivers were known, even carried milk and butter. During the company’s heyday, Helms coaches extended their delivery zones all the way north to Fresno and south to San Diego.
In terms of marketing, Helms was ahead of his time—a year after opening for business, he hitched his brand to the Summer Olympics craze and won a contract to supply bread for the 1932 games in Los Angeles. His slogan? “Olympic Games Bakers—Choice of Olympic Champions.” It caught on, and Olympic athletes continued asking for Helms bread for years to come, helping him maintain a sponsorship deal until 1952.
Locally, Helms Bakery also participated in Pasadena’s storied Tournament of Roses parade, sponsored several wildly popular radio and TV shows and, just a few weeks before closing down, supplied NASA with bread for its Apollo missions, becoming “the first bread on the moon.”
Though Paul Helms died in 1968, the bread operation remained open for a few months under his son’s leadership. But in 1969, the business model could no longer keep up with the region’s growth and change in shopping habits—so Helms Bakery closed for good.
In 1970, a real estate development group purchased the old bakery building and restored it for commercial use. Still an important commercial hub today, Culver City awarded the original Helms Bakery building landmark status in September, 1997.
The area is now known as Helms Bakery District, where modern galleries, restaurants and stores (specializing in furniture and interior design) come together with classic SoCal architecture creating a pleasing, functional little pedestrian-only neighborhood.