Paul Helms, took an early retirement in New york for health reasons, and moved his family to the temperate California climate in 1926. He began building a structure between Washington and Venice Boulevards in 1930 and on March 2, 1931, Helms Bakery opened with 32 employees and 11 coaches.
Helms won a contract to supply bread for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. One of the Olympic villages was nearby in Baldwin Hills. Early coaches sported the Olympic symbol, which is still recognizable on the historic sign atop the structure. The five rings symbolize the five major participating continents, and the colors come from the nations' flags. With Paul Helms' interest in athletics, it was not surprising that with the help of his assistant, Bill Schroeder, and Syd Kronenthal, he established the Helms Athletic Foundation, an incredible athletic museum/library. Culver High's football field still carries the name of Helms Field.
Over the years, the bakery grew. The familiar whistle of the Helms Coaches delighted locals as the vehicles traversed the southland as far north as Fresno, east to San Bernardino, south to San Diego and up to the moon! In 1969, an aggressive marketing campaign netted Helms a contract to furnish the first bread on the moon, via Apollo 11. The Helms motto "Daily to your Door" is still inscribed on the building. Although their products were never sold in stores, Helms Bakeries became one of the major employers in the city.
Paul Helms earned the admiration and respect of his employees, his "co-worker family." In a 1997 interview, Paul Helms III proclaimed, "The key to the bakery's success was the co-worker concept." As Helms walked through the plant, he called each of his co-workers by his or her first name. In August of 1969, twelve years after Paul Helms' death, the bakery closed. Lifestyle patterns had changed; more women were entering the workforce, and insurance issues, union pressures and the competition of supermarkets were some of the factors that entered into the family's decision to close the bakery.
Although it has been more than 30 years, Helms co-workers continue to meet at an annual summer picnic. This year, the picnic was held in the building, with the welcoming Helms logo at the entry and a vintage coach's drawers overflowing with donuts. Attendees included former Helms co-workers, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Helms III, city councilmembers, building owner Walter Marks III, Olympic champion Olga Connolly, and Syd Kronenthal, retired from City employ.
Helms' Zig-Zag Moderne style building still stands proudly in two cities, where Paul Helms once sat at his desk, partly in Culver City and partly in Los Angeles. The imposing bronze Helmsman that stood in the center of Venice Boulevard is nearby at Marina del Rey's Chace Park. The building, recognized by Culver City as a Landmark structure, was marked as Historic Site No. 9 by the Culver City Historical Society in 1997, evident by the bronze plaque on the Helms side.
Today, the Helms Building is part of a growing commercial center owned by Walter N. Marks, Inc., fittingly another family venture. The occupants advertise as "The Helms Furniture District" which includes The Antique Guild (where Lee Bixler displays Helms memorabilia-even a restored Helms Coach), The Jazz Bakery, Gascon Theatre, La Dijonaise and much more. The Marks family has extended the renovations to the Beacon Laundry building next door.
The city has enjoyed its share of Olympians, both residents and visitors. In 1984, the Olympic Headquarters building for the Los Angeles Olympics was on Washington Boulevard at Walnut, (now Costco), and the Men's and (first) Women's Marathon runners came off the Marina Freeway and ran through two miles of festive Olympic banners over cheering locals. Our Olympic thrust began with Helms, though!