Walking down Sunset Blvd. one afternoon in the early 80’s, I noticed the smoggy sunset making an old building glow yellow, highlighting its faux Moorish or Egyptian details like a 40s film noir set. The building was topped with massive bold letters in a font from another era reading Jones Decorating Company.
I snapped a photograph just as a lone figure ambled past Jones’ neighbor, the rundown Olive Motel, battling the burning setting sun. I didn’t notice until I developed the shot that there was a sign on the building saying Jones had moved to a small storefront down the street and that the building was for sale.
Soon afterwards, a few windows were cemented over, some architecture details were chipped off, the distinctive transom windows above the ground floor were painted over, new crappy windows were installed on the ground floor, and the massive letters were taken down.
A yoga studio and furniture store occupied the space for several years until the furniture store folded and the yoga shop moved. Then wood barriers went up fronting the sidewalk and I figured it was time to do some research before the wrecking ball came for Jones Decorating.
Turns out what was left of building was being rehabbed into “three levels of creative office, retail and restaurant space” branded The Jones Building. The property’s website dates the building back to 1928 but I still wanted to know who the heck was Jones and what did he decorate?
Building permits reveal the building was constructed for around $40K in 1928 on Sunset Blvd in the Mayberry Heights Tract by Percy G. Alen for the purpose of “studio and stores.”
By the 1940’s, E.S. Jones enters the picture as the new owner on the building permits which state that the building was being used as a decorating company on “all floors.”
More digging uncovered Jones Decorating ads in old Billboard magazines from the 40’s and 50’s revealing that Jones was a purveyor of eye-catching pennants and glowing banners, but still nothing on the man himself.
Sadly, it was a 1990 obit in the LA Times that gave life to Elmer S. Jones who has been described as a “flag, banner and bunting maker to Southern California and the world.” Elmer Jones exemplified the old fashioned American dream, where hard work actually counted for something. He was a true rags to riches story, coming to LA from Illinois and scraping by until he found a job with a decorator.
When his boss went bankrupt, Jones swooped in and took over the decorating business in 1926. With loads of ambition and elbow grease, he created a little empire. He made his mark on the city by jazzing it up it for many celebrations including the 1932 Olympics, The Rose Parade, the Academy Awards, and Hollywood Christmas parade to name a few. He even had a hand in designing the Los Angeles city flag.
Jones decorated everything from political conventions to military ceremonies, tradeshows, conventions, grand openings, and holiday parades. At his peak Jones was swamped with work orders and his bustling business employed over 50 people including production men, designers, artists, seamstresses, and salesmen.
At some when point decorating for festivities and events waned, Jones recalibrated the focus of his business to a year-round Christmas store catering to the general public and the Hollywood studios. Many Angelenos fondly remember this epoch.
As a testament to his work ethic, Elmer continued working in his building 5 days a week until breaking his hip a few weeks before his death in 1990. He was 92. I really wish I would have poked my head inside the store and met Elmer S. Jones, the man who decorated Los Angeles and beyond.
It’s 2019, Jones is long gone, and his old stomping grounds are being repurposed for a new world of entrepreneurs. (Who knows? Maybe his name will reappear on the building.) But in our haste to make old new again let us not forget the men & women who trail-blazed down boulevards like Sunset, throwing up awesome buildings and creating wildly successful businesses sometimes out of nothing but some bunting, banners, flags and ribbon.
4 thoughts on “Keeping Up with the Jones”
My Dad worked for Mr. Jones in the 60’s. I remember the year round Christmas store, and meeting Mr. Jones a number of times when I was a child.
Joseph, thanks for sharing your memories! What did your pop do? What was Mr. Jones like?
My Dad was worked as a “Commercial Decorator”. He started in Houston, and we moved to L.A. in 1960 when I was 2 years old. I remember him running search lights at supermarket openings. Decorating at the Ice Capades, and we received free tickets. The high point of his career was decorating the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A. I met Elmer Jones the first time when I was a child, and as he walked away I said to my Dad, “He’s OLD!”. He was probably in his late 60s. I met him again after I started working as a Decorator for another company, and I came over because we were going to borrow some chairs for a trade show we were setting up. I made it a point to put my head into Mr. Jones’s office and say hello and tell him who my Dad was, and he remarked that my Dad had worked there many years ago. The last time I met him I was with my Dad, and we had started our own Decorating company, and were there to see if Mr. Jones wanted to sell some of his equipment. By this time he was almost 90. We were in his Christmas Store and he took a 3′ lighted Santa off the shelf and said, “Son, you should have this”. I said, “I’m honored, Mr. Jones”. He said, “that will be $30.00”. I looked at my Dad in disbelief thinking he was kidding, but, my dad said, “Give Mr. Jones his $30.00”. I still have that Santa.
Wow– what a fantastic old LA Christmas story. Thanks for bringing Mr. Jones to life. Your dad sounds awesome.