Bob Gill remembers the open land at Third and Fairfax before Farmers Market was built. “That’s how old I am,” he is quoted on the Market website.
His dad Joe opened Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream in Farmers Market in 1937, and Bob started scooping ice cream there at age 14.
The legendary pink-and-white striped outdoor stall is closing Feb. 2, says Jody Gill, with more than a tinge of regret.
Granddaughter of its founder, she had hoped to carry on the family business. But, alas, it was not to be.
Vintage signs of vanilla-and-chocolate swirl cones and chocolate covered frozen bananas hand-painted by her dad will be taken down, the 1930s pink refrigerator will be sold (it still works), and a new vendor is set to move in.
Walt Disney came to the shop once, Jody recalled one morning last month. Mr. Disney asked her pop to make his famed ice cream at his new theme park in Anaheim.
Her dad turned down the offer, worried about his stall at Farmers Market, which has been on a month-to-month lease since it opened almost 80 years ago.
“He put his heart and soul into this,” Jody said.
A longtime resident of Park La Brea, Bob Gill will turn 93 this month and is in failing health.
Jody came to help as a caregiver 10 years ago when her mother, Donna, also the shop bookkeeper, turned ill.
An artist based in Northern California and Washington, it never occurred to Jody to run the business or that she would spend her time dreaming up ice cream recipes.
But, like her father before her, the business pulled her in. In the past two years, she sought to meet Farmers Market officials’ requests for remodeling and other improvements. Her granddaughters planned to scoop cones over the summer.
Thwarted with time spent helping her dad, (her mother has since died), Jody’s timetable was not on par with the powers that be at the Market. Undaunted, Jody hopes to open a smaller stall elsewhere at the Market to showcase her colored pencil works of country scenes, portraits and, most importantly, historic images of Farmers Market.
History runs in the family, after all. Her grandfather, Joe, once had an ice cream factory in the middle of the stall with windows so customers could watch as he made 10-gallon batches in a salt and ice freezer.
In an era before phones were in everyday use, when Joe finished a fresh batch of ice cream, he would ring a bell to alert Market goers.
The family’s two brass bells hang at the Market, mementos her ancestors carried from a school and church in North Dakota.
After Bob’s father Joe died of a heart attack in 1948, Bob left UCLA and began running the family business. His mocha cappuchino and other flavors have won national awards, and he is credited with inventing rocky road and rum raisin. Long timers recall his amazing ice cream molds and sculptures of fruit baskets, Easter bunnies and wedding and other cakes, all made from ice cream.
A favorite part of her dad’s job was talking to his customers, one of whom was Burton “Burt” Baskin, who asked Bob one day how many flavors he had. Bob responded 30. Baskin, who had 21 flavors at the time, partnered with his brother-in-law, Irvine “Irv” Robbins, and “Baskin-Robbins became known for its ‘31 flavors’ slogan,” smiles Jody.
Ice cream flavors change over the years, and times change too.
In a statement to the Chronicle, Ilysha Buss, director of marketing at The Original Farmers Market, says “The Original Farmers Market is saying farewell to longtime merchant, Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, and thanks the Gill family for bringing sweet treats to the West Patio for many years.
“The shop was the first in the L.A. area to serve homemade spumoni and was a pioneer in offering several dozen flavors of ice cream at a time. They have also been known for their elaborate, enticing-to-look-at ice cream sculptures.
“Another wonderful, classic ice cream maker has been identified as a fit for the Farmers Market West Patio. Plans for their opening will be announced soon.”