By its first decade in business, Western employed over 150 people and was responsible for ninety-nine percent of the costuming in the LA film industry. As the largest facility of its kind, they also costumed nearly all of the local theater productions at venues like the Mayan Theater. The business was thriving, and the company was grossing two million dollars per year. Western Costume dressed Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and many of the other major stars of the era.
Burns had a network of agents throughout the world that sent back garments, fabric, books, weapons, and other useful artifacts. In 1924 Western continued its expansion by moving to a twelve-story building across the street at 935 South Broadway. This newly built structure featured over 200,000 square feet of floor space, and housed a freight elevator that could take customers’ cars up to a rooftop parking lot.
200,000 square feet
Western now featured a metal shop, dye vats, and a laundry facility. On the top floor, actors could have glamour shots taken in their choice of costumes from the building at Wescosco photo studio. One of the studio photographers, William Mortensen, became one of the most famous and most controversial photographers of the 20th century.
The center of filmmaking in Los Angeles...
Western’s time at 935 South Broadway was to be short-lived. By the mid-1920s, Hollywood was the established center of filmmaking in Los Angeles. To be closer to the studios, Burns established a Hollywood branch of Western Costume where he kept a portion of each department and his administrative offices. In 1926 a group of Western employees defected and formed their own costume house.
The Great Depression
The expense of the move and the emergence of a formidable rival caused Burns to briefly lose control of the company in 1928. The Great Depression was the final blow, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1931. Jack Warner hired Burns to head the Wardrobe Department at Warner Bros., a position he held until his death in 1944.