Posts Tagged ‘California Retail’

Northern California Department Stores – White House – San Francisco

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The White House – Kearny Street Looking towards Market – 1905

The White House in San Francisco first opened as Davidson & Lane.  It opened in 1854 on Sacramento Street by J.W. Davidson and Richard Lane. Raphael Weill, an 18 year old émigré from France, joined the company. In 1958, when Richard Lane left to make his fortune in the Gold Rush, Raphael Weill became a Partner in the business. By 1861, Raphael Weill had bought out his partner and the store moved to Kearny and Post Streets. In 1870 it was renamed Raphael Weill & Company but the store was known as the “White House” after Grand Maison de Blanc in Paris. In 1906, the great earthquake and fire destroyed the building. Like many other retailers, it relocated temporarily after the fire and until the new store could be built. The new store was built at Sutter and Grant. It was built in a Beaux Arts design by Albert Pissis. The company maintained a buying office in Paris and all key members of management were from France and brought the French style in merchandise to San Francisco. For years, the company thrived and was noted for its elegant tea room. Mr. Weill died in 1920. The company continued to operate until 1965 when it closed in bankruptcy.

The building still stands and is now a flagship store for Banana Republic.

What happened????….The store was located in the better part of San Francisco. Unfortunately, that was not enough. The company seemed to lose its way in the marketplace and could not compete in San Francisco with the rejuvenation of Macy’s. The company could not attract the best merchants while other stores were developing exclusive relationships with vendors. In the end, the White House was just another promotional department store with an older customer base and with high labor and rent costs. Customers that used to travel to San Francisco to shop were now shopping in the suburban malls. The rest of their customers had passed. The White House became irrelevant. Not many were sad to see the store close.

The White House was on our family list of stores to shop when we came to San Francisco. I bought my first suit there which I needed for debate and speech tournaments. The only distinguishing point about this suit was that it was on sale. It never fit well.

The White House – Kearny Street- 1906 before earthquake and fire

The New White House – Approx 1909

The White House – Calendar – 1931

The White House Tea Room

The White House Tea Room

The White House Tea Room

I trust any customers and/or employee will feel free to leave their comments below. This was too beautiful of a store to let the memories pass without being put in print.

As with my other postcard blogs, please do not copy these postcards without my written permission.


Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Holman’s was founded in 1891 by Rensselaer Luther Holman who reportedly came to Pacific Grove to retire. His first store was named the Popular Dry Goods Store. The name was later changed to Holman’s Department Store.

In 1927, the new store was built. The store had three floors and a fourth was added in 1937. The store had 46 departments. On the roof was a solarium and in good weather, food was served on the terrace. A large plate glass window on the roof allowed a great view of Monterey Bay while protecting patrons from the wind. The dining room was on the fourth floor.

The store sold popular priced fashion and home goods. In buildings behind the main building the store also sold building supplies, seeds, and feed supplies.

Holman’s is known for being the store at which John Steinbeck shopped. Some of the drafts of his novels were written on notepads purchased at Holman’s. In addition, one of the company’s biggest publicity stunts was mentioned in his book Cannery Row. This is when a roller skater skated on top of the store’s flagpole for 51 hours to break a record. This event was also recorded for the newsreels that played in the movie theaters in the 1940’s. (You can view it on youtube.

Pacific Grove was a vacation spot for the wealthy from the San Francisco Bay Area. Until the late 1950’s, the Southern Pacific operated trains from San Francisco to Monterey and Pacific Grove.

For a while, the company operated a branch store in Monterey.

The Pacific Grove building now houses an antiques mall.

What happened???? …. In the 1990’s and into 2000, it became difficult to operate an independent department store. A mall opened in Monterey with all the major department stores and a host of specialty retailers. It became impossible to compete with the department and specialty stores which had better assortments with the brands the consumer desired. In 1985, Holman’s was sold to Watsonville, California based Ford’s Department Store. Ford’s was the oldest merchantile company in California as it was started in 1852. Ford’s was expanding at the time and had also acquired Riley’s based in San Louis Obispo. Unfortunately, Ford’s Watsonville store was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake. The store was rebuilt and opened in 1992. Unfortunately, This led to Ford’s filing for bankruptcy in 1993 and its closing of all eight stores, including the Holman’s store in Pacific Grove.

I visited the store a couple of times in the 1960’s when I went to the sports car races at Laguna Seca. I found the store to be clean and staffed with friendly and helpful sales people. The store had a local feel and a family atmosphere.

A good friend, Laurie Heth,  worked in the publicity department at Holman’s. She described the store as an exciting and fun place to work. She was sad to see it close.

The Holman family currently operates a guest ranch in the area. I hope that the family, customers, and former employees will feel free to add to this post so that the memories of this fine store will be kept alive. This is too important of a store to fade away.


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1908 New Store After Fire

In 1875, David Lubin, a Polish émigré via New York opened Lubin’s One Price Store in downtown Sacramento. This first store was 16 by 24 feet. A year or two later, his half-brother, Harris Weinstock, and his sister,  Jeanette Levy, joined the business as it expanded from just a store to a major mail order house and the company name changed to Weinstock Lubin. Soon after, the store was expanded to 80,000 square feet with four stories. In 1875, the company was the largest mail order house on the Pacific Coast.  The company grew and soon opened buying offices in New York and San Francisco. In 1888, the company was incorporated and renamed Weinstock Lubin & Co. A store in San Francisco was opened in 1897. In January, 1903, the downtown Sacramento store was destroyed by fire. A fireman was killed. Not to be stopped, the company quickly proceeded to build a new store, a building which became the biggest in Sacramento. The company targeted the value driven customer. As time continued, the retail business took over and became the majority of the business.

The company developed a culture which allowed employees to have a stake in the business. The company started a profit sharing plan which shared profits by employee level. The company also hired teachers to provide younger employees with skills in writing and mathematics.

David Lubin was impatient and wanted to do more than just run the family department store and mail order house. He let Harris Weinstock become the CEO while he engaged in agriculture. He started orchards in the Sacramento area and brought European farming methods. His knowledge of agriculture assisted him when he helped found the California Fruit Growers’ Union. He then helped settle Eastern European Jewish refugees who worked on various farms in the area and, in 1891, he became the director of the International Society for the Colonization of Russian Jews. He then began to campaign for subsidies and protection for farmers, initially in California but eventually on an international scale. His son, Simon, helped him develop a proposal for an international chamber of agriculture; in 1896, David Lubin moved to Europe to implement the proposal. In May, 1908, with the sponsorship of Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III, the International Institute of Agriculture (the IIA) opened, in Rome. The Institute’s goals were to help farmers share knowledge, produce systematically, establish a cooperative system of rural credit, and have control over the marketing of their products. In 1906, David was permanently appointed as the U.S. delegate to IIA. (Note: The IIA was folded in 1945 and merged into the United Nations.

In 1949, Weinstock Lubin & Company was acquired by its arch rival, Hale Bros. In 1979, the new parent company Carter Hawley Hale Stores expanded Weinstock Lubin & Company (now just called Weinstock’s) into Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 1991, Weinstock’s was combined with the Emporium division which took over all operations including merchandising.

The downtown store in Sacramento is now an office building.

What happened???      Weinstock Lubin & Company was once a powerful retailer in Central California. It unfortunately became a part of Hale Bros which later merged with Broadway Stores and became Broadway Hale and later merged with Emporium Capwell to become Carter Hawley Hale Stores. Wall Street jokingly called the company EGO, Inc. The parent company immersed itself with debt as it went on a drive to acquire other retail chains in an effort to become the biggest retail chain in the U.S. The impact of this debt reduced the amount of capital available to maintain the stores. Macy’s became a better competitor in California and Nordstrom also entered the market along with a host of specialty retailers and big box retailers. The department store divisions of Carter Hawley Hale no longer were relevant to the customers. After Carter Hawley Hale Stores were sold to an investor group, Zell/Chilmark, the new management team made key marketing mistakes which finished off the parent company and resulted in the 1995 sale to Federated Department Stores. With the sale, all divisions, including Weinstock’s were either converted to Macy’s or sold.

I visited Weinstock Lubin & Company when I was young as I only lived 80 miles south in Modesto. Although Weinstock Lubin had an enjoyable lunch bar for kids, it was not as magnificent as the stores in San Francisco. Weinstock Lubin was a major participant in the holiday festivities and always had wonderful window displays.

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1906

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1924

Weinstock Lubin & Co. Sacramento 1927

I encourage you to leave your memories of this store and department store chain in the comments section below.