[Ed: New photos added 11/16/15]
Because it now operates full-time as the Southwestern Law School, you can only get into the landmark Bullocks Wilshire building once a year, during the summer, when class isn't in session.
I only just figured that out last year, and excitedly bought a ticket to the 2014 Open House.
And then, the morning of the open house, I found myself next to someone who I was beginning to love, and I chose to stay with him instead of exploring a building on my own.
I'm not sure if I made the right decision last year—mostly because of the devastating heartbreak that ensued—but at least I got another chance to see this Art Deco palace on the inside.
I'm still making up for lost time, after all of these years.
I didn't grow up with Bullocks, a department store chain based in LA that only stretched as far east as Arizona and Nevada, but I quickly became aware of its very special upscale iteration after driving past it on Wilshire Boulevard.
Built in 1929, it was one of the first department stores to cater to car culture...
...with sidewalk-facing window displays to attract the eyes of drivers passing by on Wilshire...
...through a relatively residential district on their way east to Downtown—the established shopping district of the time—or west to the Miracle Mile.
So, the "front" entrance of the department store was technically in the back of the building, through a motor court (porte cochère) for easy drop-offs and a short distance from where valets parked the cars.
Shoppers entered after passing under the ceiling fresco by Herman Sachs, "Spirit of Transportation."
Southwestern Law School purchased the Bullocks Wilshire building in 1994...
...and embarked on a $29 million restoration to make it suitable for academic purposes...
...while still retaining its historic character.
The Central Hall is still reminiscent of the lobby of the Empire State Building, but you will no longer find an ostrich feather Christmas tree there during the holidays.
In the first floor East Room—formerly a salon for designer shoes and accessories—they incorporated original lighting fixtures and ceiling details into their new design for the Julian C. Dixon Courtroom and Advocacy Center, which they tout as "the most technologically advanced courtroom in the country."
The former Women's Sportswear Department is now the Reference Room, whose "The Spirit of Sports" mural is the central focal point. Serbo-Croation artist Gjura Stojano created the mural out of a variety of materials ranging from plaster reliefs to metal leafing.
Predictably, there are tomes of legal reference materials everywhere.
While some artistic features—like the mural—had to be cleaned, others were discovered during the renovation. A Streamline Moderne ceiling detail near the former gift wrapping desk had been covered up by dropped ceiling tiles.
Years of grime had covered up the wall tiles in the Mayan Room, the former Menswear Department that had been designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright's textile block houses.
Walking through Bullocks Wilshire, even now, is like taking a trip to Epcot. Every room has its own cultural influence, theme, and time period.
And because the department store operated for more than 60 years, original 1929 elements intermingle with other design features added later—like a Moroccan chandelier and an inlaid compass in the terrazzo floor of the Palm Court, both from the 1960s.
The former Lingerie Department, with its pink pigmented structural glass walls, now gives a rose-colored hue and a soft focus to the comparatively unsexy Foreign, Comparative and International Law Collection.
Moving from room to room—back then, and even now—it's hard to believe you're still in the same building...
...and haven't slipped through a wormhole to another time and place.
On the second floor, there are a variety of "Period Rooms," like the Louis XVI Room, which transports its visitors to Marie Antoinette's boudoir in the Palace of Versailles. It's particularly shocking, given how modern—and moderne—the rest of the building is.
These period rooms were where top designer clothing could be found—not on racks, but modeled by "live mannequins."
La Chinoiserie once housed the Chanel Boutique with its French Rococo design—which, in keeping with the Louis XVI theme, adds a touch of China, by way of France.
In La Directoire, the French Room later known as the Fur Salon...
...doors clad in a bow-and-arrow design lead to dressing rooms.
Brass fixtures were polished, and layers of wall paint were stripped away to identify the original 1929 color palette and to reproduce it as closely as possible.
Murals depicting Paris still line the walls...
...as do many of the original wooden cabinets.
The third and fourth floors of the former Bullocks Wilshire building have far fewer historic design elements than floors 1, 2, and 5, but I found the sculptured ceilings quite lovely, especially for what was once the Children's Floor.
And from the fourth floor, you can sneak out onto outdoor terraces...
...to get some fresh air...
...and a closer look at that iconic tower, rising 241 feet and topped with tarnished green copper.
On the top level, you can find mosaic tile floors...
...a mosaic tile fountain found hiding behind some drywall...
...copper cacti (reproductions of the originals)...
...and yet another unique elevator bank.
John Bullock's former apartment and private office suite is still there...
...but is now used as the Dean's Office.
From there, you may visit the rooftop garden, although climbing the fire escape to get even higher is interdit. But what is up inside that tower?!
Photo: Mott Studios, California State Library Photo Collection
Probably the thing that people remember the most about Bullocks Wilshire, if they had a chance to visit before it closed in 1993, was The Tea Room.
It's been restored to its original 1929 design and "desert" color palette, but lots of people remember a more ornate version after 1960, with peacock wallpaper.
Its final day of operation sounds like it was pretty crazy, but aren't all the last days of beloved institutions? More from Huell Howser in the video below:
Photo Essay: City Hall at Sunset
Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public
Photo Essay: Wilshire May Company Building, Miracle Mile
Photo Essay: The Oviatt Building's Art Deco Legacy