The roots of the Stendahl Art Galleries were laid in 1911, when Earl Stendahl (1887-1966) began exhibiting the work of young Los Angeles artists at his downtown restaurant The Black Cat Café. He then worked at the Cannell and Chaffin Gallery from 1917 to 1918, first as a sales associate, then as a manager, and briefly trained to serve the U.S. Military in World War I in 1918, although he was never deployed. After completing his service, he opened Stendahl Art Galleries at The Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in 1921. At this time, Stendahl Art Galleries exhibited and sold works by California impressionists of the early twentieth century, including Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, William Wendt, Nicolai Fechin, and Joseph Kleitsch, in addition to works by European and Latin American artists including Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Constantin Brancusi, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera. Stendahl worked with significant collectors including William Randolph Hearst, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Gershwin, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, David O. Selznick, Robert Woods Bliss, and Nelson Rockefeller, and in 1939, Stendahl hosted one of only two non-museum exhibitions of Pablo Picasso's Guernica to benefit Spanish war orphans.
In 1935, Stendahl started to deal Pre-Hispanic art, which later became the gallery's focus. The first clients for Mexican and Central American antiquities were Louise and Walter Arensberg, who Stendahl assisted in creating one of the most significant private collections in the United States. In 1954, after Walter Arensberg's death, Stendahl Art Galleries moved into the Arensberg estate at 7055 Hillside Avenue in Hollywood. The property, built in 1920, was designed by architect William Lee Woollett, with later contributions by Richard Neutra, Gregory Ain, H. Palmer Sabin and John Lautner. After Earl Stendahl's death in 1966, his descendants, including Alfred Stendahl (1915-2010), continued the family business until 2017, when Ronald W. Dammann, Earl Stendahl's grandson, and April Dammann, archivist at Stendahl Galleries and author of Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario (Angel City Press, 2011), closed the gallery.