Wednesday, April 20, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 3: The Kerr Sport Shop of Beverly Hills

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part III:

The Kerr Sport Shop of Beverly Hills:

Fishing Tackle to the Stars

Hollywood reached its Golden Age from 1930-1960, when such luminescent stars as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby became icons. Many of these Golden Age cinema stars, including Grant, Cooper and Crosby, were noted anglers. But who did they buy their fishing tackle from?

Some famous movie stars frequented Abercrombie & Fitch, of course, but since A&F did not have a West Coast presence (at least not until later, when they opened a branch in San Francisco), and many stars more or less made their homes in Hollywood, there had to be some place for them to frequent that could sate their piscatorial and hunting desires.

This is where the Kerr Sport Shop of 9584 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills stepped in. A fixture among the Hollywood elite anglers and hunters for decades, it was truly the Tackle Shop to the Stars. Founded by transplanted Chicagoan Alexander H. Kerr (b. 1913) in the mid-1930s, this full service tackle shop sold a full line of fishing tackle as well as other sporting goods, including sporting clothes -- an important line in a city so image-conscience. By 1937The Coast magazine was calling it that "super sporting establishment in Beverly Hills."

Kerr Sport Shop as pictured in the 1946 Sporting Goods Dealer.

Alex Kerr was certainly a sport himself, best noted for his shooting skills. In 1941, he won his first World Championship, then spent the war years as a Navy gunnery instructor. In 1946 he won the Sports Afield trophy for All-Gauge skeet shooting champion. A year later he became one of the founders of the National Skeet Shooting Association. He was a 16-time world champion in this sport.

Although the shop was perhaps best known for its custom gunsmithing department, where the rich and famous could have their high-end double barrel shotguns tailored to their needs or purchase Remington-special Kerr Skeet Guns, it did also sell a lot of good fishing tackle, too. Studio executive and film director William R. Lasky recalled in his autobiography Go Tell it on the Mountain about one particular incident where "we drove to Kerr's Sport Shop in Beverly Hills, and he bought us the best of everything: hundred-dollar Canadian quilt-lined fishing jackets, Arctic goose-down sleeping bags, European trout creels, and so many trout flies…"

And there were stars. The Oakland Tribune for 15 January 1942 wrote that Alex Kerr was the "blond expert from Beverly Hills, and instructor to many of the men and women from Hollywood's motion picture colony…" Preview Magazine in 1958 declared that Oscar-winner Gary Cooper often "visits Alex Kerr's sports shop, browses in the gun department, always hefts a pair of matched Purdy's and murmurs, 'Wish I could afford these,' and has coffee with Alex in the coffee shop across the road." Robert Stack was a frequent patron, and an exceptionally good shot with a gun, too. He referred to Kerr often in his own autobiography Shooting Straight.

Kerr was referenced in hundreds of newspaper articles, often accompanied by press photos such as this one.

Kerr spent a lot of his free time collecting and documenting the history of skeet shooting. The Long Beach Press-Telegram could declare on 30 January 1972 that "Kerr has probably assembled probably what is one of the most complete collections of equipment used from the earliest days of shotgun competitions." He was also a conservationist who in 1963 was named by the California Outdoor Writers the "Sportsman of the Year."

There doesn't seem to be a lot of marked Kerr fishing tackle, which is probably because the kind of people who purchased his tackle were not the kind of people who's tackle makes it to the secondary market. The most commonly found items bearing this company's name are trade rods.

Here is a great ca. 1938 Heddon "Bass Master" bamboo casting rod made for Kerr's. A five foot, two piece model, it is marked "KERR'S SPORT SHOP" on the shaft. A nice quality casting rod, it is a great collectable and a nice piece of Kerr history.

It's likely there are also some trade reels marked Kerr out there as well.

Kerr ephemera comes to market on rare occasions. One neat piece of ephemera from the firm's history is this beautiful matchcover dating to about 1945.

This isn't the only piece of Kerr tackle-related items, Kerr Sport Shop letterhead has appeared as well.

I am betting that there is likely a line spool, snelled hook packet, and perhaps even a marked fishing reel out there with the Kerr name.

With its posh Wilshire Boulevard 90212 address, it's unlikely we'll ever see anything like the Kerr Sport Shop ever again.

-- Dr. Todd


Penny said...

Dr. Todd, This a great series I look forward to each installment. You have started a super outline for a great book ! thanks very much & Best, Paul D Narlesky

Oscar Flores said...

I bought a Kerr fly fishing rod for three bucks today with a "Kerr's of Beverly Hills" tag and a case. OZ

Oscar Flores said...

I bought a Kerr fly fishing rod for three bucks today with a "Kerr's of Beverly Hills" tag and a case. OZ

Terryskeep said...

Have 7 or 8 ft fly rod with hand written hand made for Kerr sports shop. No weight line clarification. Would love to learn nore. Rod never used, cork hand grip & rod pristine. Has serial number, might be avle to track maker or year? Will send picture's to someone who knows there products. Still in aluminum & cloth sleeve.

contraryjim said...

I still have the Swiss Army knife my mother bought for me at Kerr's in the mid 40s. It was a great place to browse. West LA was then a great place for children.

Terryskeep said...

Have brand new fly rod from Kerr have details even serial numbers pristien need 2. Find who it was sold to?
Need help