A few weeks ago I was reading My Father's Daughter - a memoir by Tina Sinatra, daughter of famed singer Frank.
I was never a Sinatra fan, but I'm a voracious reader and will delve into anything concerning Hollywood and/or celebrities. Tina's book is quite interesting and honestly written.
I was immediately struck by one of Tina's earliest childhood memories in Southern California: that of the Helms Bakery truck.
I remember Helms Bakery very well, and the excitement of seeing the truck come through our neighborhood every weekday morning.
Helms Bakery was very well-known in Southern California from 1931 until 1969 when they finally suspended business.
The unique thing about Helms was that they had no retail stores. All of their bakery items were sold by trucks, which drove to neighborhoods throughout Southern California - sort of like the ice cream man.
Early Helms trucks
Paul Helms (1889 - 1957) was originally from New York, but moved with his family to California in 1926 due to health reasons. He built a bakery factory in Culver City, which opened in March, 1931, with 32 employees and 11 delivery trucks.
Helms truck drivers
waiting to embark on morning deliveries
In 1932 Helms Bakery became the official baker for the Summer Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles. Soon afterwards, another Helms factory was built in Montebello and their truck deliveries expanded from the Los Angeles Basin to the San Gabriel Valley. The company motto was "Daily at Your Door".
Inside the Helms Bakery factory
After Paul Helms death in 1957, his family kept the company and expanded the delivery service from the L.A. area to regions as far as Orange County and San Bernadino.
By the end of the 1960s, however, truck deliveries were becoming passe due to fierce competition from ever-expanding retail stores. The Helms Bakery concept was no longer financially viable and the business closed in 1969.
In the early 1970s the Helms L.A. factory was purchased by the Marks family. Today the area is known as the Helms Bakery District, which houses retail stores, restaurants, and a museum.
My fondest memories of Helms Bakery occurred in the 1960s, when my family lived in Pomona. We lived there nearly five years, when I was eight to eleven.
The Helms truck would come to our neighborhood every weekday, making its presence known by the distinct whistle that would go Toot-Toot! All the neighborhood ladies would run outside to buy bakery goods.
These are the trucks I remember
At that time, Helms had the very best items that you could get anywhere - including bread, donuts, cookies, and even candy. When my Mom wasn't able to run outside, she'd give me money to get the items we needed.
Jelly donuts were always on the agenda. Nobody - and I mean nobody - ever made better jelly donuts than Helms. They were huge, generously filled with real jelly, and always warm from the oven.
I recently came across someone on the Internet who remembered that Helms jelly donuts were six cents each. I don't recall how much they were when I was a child, but when my mother gave me a dollar for a dozen donuts I always got back change.
When I was about ten years old, my father bought a used Helms Bakery truck. I don't know the year of the truck, but it was probably from the 1950s. It was painted blue, and the Helms emblems were gone, but it still had the whistle that went Toot-Toot.
My father didn't keep the truck for very long. I suppose, for him, it was only a passing novelty.
We moved to Anaheim when I was eleven. That's when Dad sold the Helms truck and bought a brand new Ford Econoline van.
This looks exactly like the truck my father bought, although the Helms emblem was gone and it was painted baby blue. I have a photo of Dad's truck somewhere, but I'm too lazy to look for it (and my printer/scanner isn't working).