Helms Bakery

Helms Bakery wasn’t really a restaurant but it’s my website.  I can write about it here if I want to.

The Helms Bakery Building still stands on Venice Boulevard with much of its signage still intact…but inside, they bake no bread or cinnamon buns.  It’s a furniture mart in there now but once upon a time beginning when Paul Helms founded the business in 1931, they made bread and sugar cookies and rolls and cupcakes and all the things that great bakeries bake.  Then nice men would load them into their Helms Bakery Trucks and drive about surrounding neighborhoods, selling them to housewives and kids.

If you wanted the Helms Man to stop at your residence, you had to, first of all, put the Helms placard up in your front window…although a good Helms Man knew his territory, knew that certain homes expected him whether they had the sign up or not.  He’d pull up in front and blow his distinctive whistle and you’d scurry out to his truck and buy stuff. Inside the truck, he had drawers full of cookies and donuts and rolls and I think they even carried milk and butter, though at somewhat higher prices than the nearby Safeway Market.

When I was very young, you could often find me waiting outside our home for the Helms Man.  We had a rough idea of when he’d get to our street and I’d go play out front, keeping an eye out for the guy.  When he approached, it was very exciting and I’d run in and get my mother.  She’d buy a loaf of bread and maybe some rolls and always at least a cookie for me.  Actually, the first thing our Helms Man would do when we stepped up inside his truck to make our purchases was to hand me a free cookie, usually one of their terrific sugar cookies.

Once, I got to go inside the plant thanks to an L.A. City School District program of field trips.  We all piled into buses which drove us over to Culver City for a tour.  Upon arrival, we were marched through the place and shown how the bread was baked, how the cookies were mixed and formed on large conveyor belts…and you couldn’t help but love how great it smelled in there.  The aroma was heavenly and a whole lot better than the tuna cannery or the dairy we toured on other field trips.  On the way out, each student received a small loaf of bread and a little cardboard Helms Truck.

I’m not sure why the business model was as successful for as long as it was. As mentioned, the prices on the Helms Truck were always somewhat higher than buying roughly the same things at a Safeway or Von’s, and you’d have to go to one of those markets anyway to get the other things you needed. Why not get your bread and cookies at Von’s while you were there and save a few bucks? Whatever the reason was to opt for the trucks, it seems to have faded out by the late sixties. Maybe there were fewer mothers staying at home all day or something. Maybe the quality of baked goods at the markets had improved. Whatever the cause, the whole operation shut down in 1969 and I still remember the day its trucks made their last, melancholy rounds.  There was a real sense of loss when our Helms Man drove off, having sold us our rolls and sugar cookies for the last time.

The big building on Venice Boulevard sat vacant for a few years and rumors abounded as to what would become of it.  In 1972, it was acquired by a real estate firm that soon began its transformation into a complex of furniture dealers…and even a little jazz club called The Jazz Bakery.  Happily, as noted, they kept a lot of the old Helms Bakery decor intact and sometimes when you drive past it, you can almost imagine you’re smelling the sugar cookies, fresh out of those huge ovens.

109 Responses to Helms Bakery

  • Alison says:

    We celebrate the trucks, are there no photos of the baked goods?
    There are no interior pictures of the boxy vans that show their unique drawer system. Drawers in the large van opening into the driver’s area up front held cookies. Open to the rear, they revealed pies and cakes. Were those drawers the same drawers… or were there two separate sets? Whichever, they were beautifully crafted wood and would have made great furniture. Where did they go?

  • Jan W says:

    I was born in 1946 and lived in Pacific Palisades in the day when it was just the most wonderful place to call home. I remember the Helm’s man as though it were yesterday, and tonight when my granddaughter and I were talking I told her about the field trip which was my all time favorite – down to the bakery where we watched breads and cookies roll out of the ovens onto long conveyor belts. I loved coming home with my little paper truck and saved it for a long, long time, it was such a treasure. Our Helm’s man knew I loved those fresh donuts, and I would always make sure to have my little bit of change ready when he came around so I could purchase a treat. What great memories came alive in my mind as I saw these pictures and read about those days. I’m so glad I can still walk back in time so easily and so happily. Thanks so very much for your post!

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Great remembrance Jan W!
    Albeit it has been a year since I sent this on herein from some guy, hope you tooted the Helm’s whistle for your G-daughter http://tinyurl.com/mltkeq2. It was apparently heard just down the road in Culver City (CC) as well.
    – BTW, you are of the same era of CC’s Sharrie Williams http://saffronsrule.com/ who was going to CC High about your time too! If you were into makeup as a teen as well, might I suggest Y’all catch a copy of http://tinyurl.com/zlk4b8j

  • Sandie says:

    I grew up on Grand Summit Road in Torrance….cannot think of home without remembering our Helm’s man. My two favorite items….fresh, sugary jelly, not lemon, doughnuts and a small chocolate sheet cake with chopped nuts on top! Man, oh man…..loved growing up in the sixties in sixth Bay Area of California.

  • Phyllis Steinberg says:

    Did you forget about the refrigerated drawer that contained the cream puffs? Oh..Yum!!

  • Jerry Mezerow says:

    Alison- If you go on ebay they sometimes sell Helms Catalogs of bakery items being baked. Expect to pay big bucks for these photos, as they are very collectible. I have two catalogs that cost $200. You can check it out for yourself. They also sell metal Helms trucks that are nice.

  • Bob says:

    Helms Bakery was absolutely the best school field trip I ever took. I still remember warm mini-loaves that each kid got at the end.

  • Linda Friday says:

    Back in the day (the 50s and 60s) most families only had one car which is what made the Helms Bakery and Adohr Farms trucks so plentiful and prosperous. Moms couldn’t make a grocery runs mid-week, so those trucks brought staples to the domestic goddesses of the era. As society changed in the mid-60s, these companies sadly became dinosaurs. I remember them all though: Helms, Adohr, Fuller Brush, Avon, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica were all fixtures in my Monterey Park neighborhood. Because there was a large Asian population as well, there was also a fresh fish truck that navigated the streets. My Japanese neighbor loved to torment me with octopus tentacles! She laughed uproariously as I squealed and squirmed in disgust.

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Too funny, but very insightful Linda (who I presume is no relation to Joe!) I vaguely remember trying door-to-door ala Fuller Brush first summer post hi school graduation…lasted 2 weeks. Whoa! what impolite people out there in the world!
    Weren’t subscriptions to Highlights also sold that way? Loved the hidden pictures!
    Alas, my Mom was not a stay-at-home Mom, so salesguys could only catch her when the doc she labored for was “off” Wednesdays. Hmm…. I don’t recall any Gals doing door-to-door.
    – Hope you tooted the whistle above per 3/24!

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