The Lost Realms of the Dutton’s Family Book Empire
Some Fleeting Memories
by Paul Hunt
It’s always a sad moment when an old-time bookseller dies. Dave Dutton recently died, he was 79. It magnifies and gives reflection to the great days of the second half of the 20th Century, when booksellers contributed so much to Southern California. It was a wonderful time, and entire families built book empires around the area. The Dawsons, The Duttons, and the Weinsteins come to mind. So many of the founders of the legendary shops have passed, that we are only left with a few memories and some faded photos.
Dave Dutton had a large shop on Laurel Canyon at Magnolia Blvd. in the Valley. The building is still standing, now a yoga studio. At its zenith it also spawned a few other shops that opened around it on Magnolia just east of Laurel Canyon. Dutton’s attracted so much activity that other booksellers opened shops near-by. I remember Gilbert Coronel had a small shop on Magnolia. He was also a book binder. Next door or near was Michael Blatty who had a well organized shop. Michael’s father was William Peter Blatty, the famous novelist of Exorcist fame. These shops faded away at the same time that Dutton’s business declined. (Gilbert died last year, William Peter Blatty just recently. I’ve lost track of Michael, a cheerful guy who loved books.)
Dutton’s was a fun place to visit. The staff was friendly (a nice fellow named Abbott comes to mind) and the place was just packed with books. Dave had both new books and used books on the shelves. What he didn’t have he was happy to search for. The word to describe Dave Dutton was “gentleman”, because that’s what he was, in the full sense of the word. The Duttons, like their older friends the Dawsons, were from the old school of behavior, something not seen much anymore in the new world of corporate onslaught and greed. They were all polite, friendly, and honest in their dealings.
Dave loved hanging out behind the shop where he had some tables set up. It was here that he sorted through the tonnage of boxes of books that poured in. In one of the articles in the local press, Dave said that when they first opened the shop they had a hard time getting books. Boy, did that turn around. By the 1990s the store was so packed that it was at times tough to get down the aisles. One of my friends, a local book scout, told me that Dutton’s wife Judy would get exasperated at the sheer quantity flowing in, and issue an edict that there was to be a strict halt on buying books. When my friend called Dave for an appointment to bring in some books to sell, Dave would say “Come around to the back of the shop, and don’t let my wife see you!”
Stopping by Dutton’s place to browse through the books would sometimes turn into an epic adventure of sorts. One time, driving into the back area behind the shop, I said hello to Dave, who was out in the back lot under a swap meet tent sorting through a huge pile of books. He immediately sent me out to look at an estate of gambling books in the North Valley. We always had a deal, if they were good I would buy them and bring them back to his shop and we would divvy them up. It was on this trip that I spotted the legendary news rack of “pick-a-book” that was at one time owned by Harry Beirman. I wasn’t able to buy it, but at least I can verify that it existed. You can read the article on Beirman on this blog, click here.
Dave and his brother Doug loved books. They had other stores, one in Magnolia Park in Burbank on Magnolia Blvd, one downtown Los Angeles, It was in the Arco tower, a downtown L.A. office building, and Doug ran a huge shop in Brentwood. I found a few photos of the Magnolia Park shop and some pix that I took at the closing of Dutton’s Brentwood.
Photos of Dave Dutton’s nice shop in Burbank
The above photos show the last days of the Burbank Store, which closed around 2005.
Dutton’s Brentwood closed in 2008
Dave’s brother Doug ran the Brentwood Store. All photos by Paul Hunt. I took these pictures around the time they closed. At the time I was working for a company that distributed magazines, and we serviced the the news stand that was inside the coffee shop.
Dutton’s Brentwood was a large building that was “U” shaped. It was originally a lot of small shops, so each shop area became a mini-bookstore organized by subject. It was really cool, but probably hard to manage and employee intensive. A big 5,000 sq. ft. store in the shape of a box or a rectangle can be managed by a couple of people, with some part-time help. Dutton’s must have been a challenge, as there were multiple little shops, some without employees at times. A most unusual layout.
The news stand in the coffee shop, pretty much stripped of all the magazines by this time, just before the final day. When it was operating, it was thick with literary titles, poetry magazines and more scholarly titles as well as the top mainstream magazines.
This knowledgeable lady ran the Children’s Department
The closing of the Brentwood store brought to an end the saga of the great Dutton’s Book Shops. The family was innovative, consumer friendly, and hard working. In the end, as so many other book shops have found, it is near impossible to fight the insane escalating rents of the landlords. The real estate industry, along with help from the Federal Reserve, have almost turned the nation into a “rentier state.” Both business and individuals have been the victims of this deadly game. The so-called mortgage crises drove this to a new paradigm, from which there seems to be no escape for the 99%.
In Dutton’s case, the Brentwood property was owned by Warren Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger. He had dreams of building a huge shopping center on the property, so when Dutton’s lease was up, it was the end. The good news here is that at least Charlie Munger was very fair and actually provided a large settlement for Dutton, allowing him to take care of his business obligations, at least this is the rumor. For Munger, in a way, it was also the end. The neighbors protested against building a large center, so the old building is still standing, and after some years now has been re-leased to new tenants. Looking at it from Munger’s view, I personally can’t see why he was denied permission to rebuild the site after Dutton was gone, although I wish Dutton could have stayed and prospered. It was an old structure, but a large lot with plenty of parking. Munger had plenty of money to invest (he has given many millions to the Huntington) and would probably have put up a nice structure. Maybe Dutton could have come back to the new building with a smaller store. Just speculation. Sometimes, life gets weird for all of us, and our plans go haywire, even for the rich and powerful.
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