Throwback Thursday | Growing Up in Southern California

During the 1960’s the author recalls the treasured memory of hearing the whistle from the Helms bakery coach as it came down his street

PHOTO: Helms Bakery District photo archive | News | Helms coach visits the neighborhood

In 1926, Paul Helms took early retirement due to poor health and moved his family from New York to sunny Southern California. A few years later, he opened Helms Bakery in Culver City.

Helms bakery delivered freshly-baked bread, donuts, and cookies to neighborhoods with the motto “Daily at Your Door.” The Helms company thrived for more than 30 years.

In 1969, Helms went out of business when supermarkets began carrying less expensive bakery items, and the rising costs of home delivery made it impossible to sustain their hallmark neighborhood service.

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My memories of Helms bakery delivery:

PHOTO: Rick Thomas | News | Helms Bakery coach

I have fond memories during my childhood in the 1960s of the cream-yellow Helms coach as it came down our street blowing its whistle.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas | News | Wax paper dispenser on the rear left door

I remember the kindly gentleman who serviced our neighborhood. No doubt, I had a big smile as he handed me my favorite glazed donut wrapped in wax paper.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas | News | Large oak drawers located at the rear

My mother always asked me to get her a chocolate éclair and a pack of Kent 100s cigarettes.

She had agoraphobia and was a shut-in most of the time. My mom rarely left the house and avoided driving on freeways or going out to eat at restaurants. She was especially nervous while standing in a checkout line at our local Alpha Beta supermarket. I was a little kid who relished the responsibility of handling the money exchange at the cashier.

The Helms driver parked at the curb and waited as I raced out to greet him. My mother remained with the house standing at the front door, shouting her approval to the Helmsman for me to purchase her cigarettes.

Rick Thomas | News | The author and his wife Hitomi at the open rear doors

I would love to go back in time for a day. Unwrap the wax paper and munch down a Helms bakery glazed donut. And do everything in my power to convince my mother to stop smoking. She no longer has agoraphobia but struggles to breathe from emphysema.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.