It seems with every passing month, another newspaper decides to either scale back or discontinue its printing. There was a time, and yes in my lifetime, that city papers produced a morning and afternoon edition. Where am I going with this waxing of nostalgia? It’s on a journey to discover information on a lesser known uniform manufacturer and American success story…Spanjian Sportswear.
All of the information presented today was gleamed from contemporary newspaper accounts from the 1950s through the 1970s. These papers included local California publications such as the Independent News Star and the Arcadia Tribune. This article has been a long time coming, and coming at the request of Mr. Warren Humphrey. Warren, I am sorry this has taken so long, but I hope you and others will have found it worth the wait.
Contrary to most collectors you will talk with, the history of Spanjian uniforms does not begin in sunny southern California in the 1960s or even the 1950s. To find the Spanjian origins, you have to go back the 1930s (1932 to be exact) and head east to Chicago to begin this yarn of yarn wool, cotton, and nylon. The Spanjian Sportswear company’s efforts were in fact launched by Mrs. Elizabeth Spanjian and her work in producing oversized swim suits out of her Windy City basement. Her husband Sarkis Spanjian was her business partner and sons Bob and Dick would often help out cutting fabric in these early days. The Spanjian’s would stay in Chicago until 1944. Their first big break came with filling an order for the Chicago Bears. These uniforms provided for this first order were made of wool and they were returned by the Bears torn and ruined. Sarkis Spanjian quickly made the next years offering out a cotton-wool blend and these worked out better and also began his efforts in developing more durable fabrics. This would come in the post-war time frame with his introduction of a nylon-cotton blend fabric. By this time, Spanjian Sportswear had moved to California.
I am not sure of the location of the initial California operation, but accounts from 1959 place the then existing Spanjian Sportswear company at 1367 North Fair Oaks in Pasadena’s west side. The company was doing well enough at this time to expand to a new 24,000 square foot complex at 500 North Fair Oaks. The 500 North Fair Oaks facility was designed by Nyberg and Bissner architects and was built to accommodate some 75 employees, 40 knitting and 75 sewing machines. By the early 1970s, Spanjian Sportswear had relocated again, this time to San Marcos, California and the facility at 1050 Los Valiecitos Boulevard. Spanjian would remain at this location until they were bought out by DeLong. DeLong operated the San Marcos facility from 1985 until 1988. At that time the facility was closed and the work was moved to plants in Iowa.
O.K. I am sure you are saying this is all well and good, but who did they produce product for and what are the highlights? Spanjain is said to have at one time produced uniforms (largely college football jerseys and pants) for hundreds of teams including:
Louisiana State University
University of California-Berkley
University of Nebraska
Michigan (even developed a special maize color dye)
University of Miami (FL)
San Diego State
Spanjain is also credited with supplying the first uniforms to the college football and basketball All Star Games held in Chicago in the 1940s. They however would soon be replaced by Chicago based Wilson Sporting Goods for these events.
According to the Independent Star-News of December 18th 1966, Spanjian was outfitting some 330 schools and providing:
29.81 % of all collegiate game pants
17.14% of all collegiate game jerseys
27.09% of all collegiate practice pants
Spanjian was also providing the college ranks garb for soccer, baseball, wrestling, basketball and track.
By 1969, the number of college grid-iron gangs wearing Spanjian supplied uniforms was listed at 440.
Apparently, Spanjian product was not limited to the collegiate ranks.
The Chicago Bears (full uniforms in the 1940s)
The Cleveland Browns
The Philadelphia Eagles
The San Diego Charges
The Baltimore Colts
The Oakland Raiders
The Winnipeg Bombers
The Phoenix Suns
The Philadelphia 76s
San Diego Sails
San Diego Conquistadors
The Harlem Globetrotters
I am sure there are likely others and countless of hundreds of high schools who also wore Spanjian products. This article was never intended to be the definitive list of teams that wore Spanjian products. The focus was on telling a story that was told long ago and over any number of years through the newspaper. A medium that is going the way of the high quality American made family owned business such as Spanjian Sportswear.
Companies such as Spanjain are as much apart of our national fabric as the fabrics and garments they produced for our sporting and collecting pleasures. Take some time to appreciate the product, the producers, and how their story was told in period newspapers. If you are serious about researching a sports memorabilia related topic, the morning and afternoon editions make for evenings worth of wonderful and valuable reading.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com
POST SCRIPT: Sorry for the delay Warren, but as you will note, I did remember to spell it Spanjian and not Spanjan.