If you’ve ever driven along Interstate 5 through Commerce, just outside Los Angeles, you’ve likely spied a grand ancient looking palace and perhaps wondered “What on earth is that!?” Well, it’s an outlet mall actually. Yes, an outlet mall, known simply as The Citadel.
But it wasn’t always that way. The building was actually built in 1928 by Adolph Schleicher, the founder of Samson Tire & Rubber Company, and it was the factory. Schleicher had Morgan, Wells, and Clements design his Assyarian inspired palace, a firm who also designed the equally ancient looking Mayan Theater and grand El Capitain Theater in Hollywod.
But why an Assyrian inspired design? There are two thoughts on that. One is in the name of the company itself, Samson. Samson was a character from the Bible and known for his strength. “There’s the idea about strength in tires, and that tires are the foundation for your car,” said Adrian Scott Fine of the Los Angeles Conservancy. Fine also pointed to the fact that King Sargon’s palace, Dur-Sharrukin, had been in the headlines earlier in 1928, as it was being excavated by American archaeologists. And some of the images on the company’s main building reflect those of King Sargon.
King Sargon reigned from 721 B.C. to 705 B.C. in what is now Khorsabad, Iraq. The palace was originally uncovered by the French in 1842, and in 1853 a larger excavation took place by the French, uncovering many artifacts. Sadly, many of their finds were lost shortly after their discovery! The artifacts were crated up and placed on boats and rafts to have them sent to Paris, only to lose them to pirates and the Tigris River! The surviving artifacts eventually made their way to the Louvre. After the Americans’ dig in the 20s, Iraqi archaeologists returned to the site in 1957. More recently, the Dur-Sharrukin has fallen victim to violence and looting by ISIS in 2015, and the artifacts lost by the French have remained at the bottom of the Tigris River.
Sadly Schleicher’s reign over his rubber kingdom was short, as the stock market crash of 1929 resulted in Schleicher selling his company to the United States Rubber Company, later known as Uniroyal.
After World War II, America experienced its famous post-war economic boom, and the little industrial city of Commerce was doing extremely well in the automotive business, falling second to Detroit. Uniroyal did well until 1978, when a turbulent decade for cars, between the EPA and the gas crisis, neared an end.
The palace became an abandoned eyesore along Interstate 5 as commuters drove past, but soon it would find a new life. In 1983, the City of Commerce purchased the property for $14 million, before receiving new owners to transform it into an outlet mall, which welcomed shoppers in 1990.
The main building features carvings of winged men known as genies, and, as mentioned earlier, a man akin to images of the real King Sargon, as well as etchings of cuneiform, the language of the Assyrians. Meanwhile the main doors are guarded by creatures known as Lamassu, an Assyrian protective deity. Statues of Lamassu were uncovered by both the French and the American archaeologists, and the statues are on display both at the Louvre and at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.
Since The Citadel’s opening, it has received many expansions and renovations, but what always remained vital was maintaining the wall and central building that faced the freeway. In the early 2000s, the Citadel sought to advertise what lay behind its formidable walls, with several giant 30 foot tall LED screens, featuring rotating advertisements for companies and events within, but each was topped with recreations one of the Lamassu like the ones that flank the doors of the original building.
Its most recent renovation was in 2010, which it expanded to include 36 more stores, and totaling over 100 shops and restaurants for locals and tourists alike.
Today the original main building is home to offices and opens into the food court, which sits under the original steel roof beams of the factory.
There are rumors that it was used in the filming of the 1959 epic Ben-Hur, however I can find no real evidence of that, and it is widely noted that MGM filmed Ben-Hur in Italy. The Citadel does play into that a little bit with a massive LA mural featuring the Chinese Theatre with Ben-Hur as the movie on the marquee.
We spied a directory that featured a pair of tires spinning above. To the average shopper, they may appear random, but to us, we loved this small homage to the location’s history.
The stores that hide behind the ancient looking wall range from inexpensive stores like Old Navy and H&M to high end such as Armani and Coach. The architecture also varies to a degree, but it is still all very much within theme, and in areas pays homage to the original structure.
The Citadel is located at 100 Citadel Drive, in Commerce.