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.
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.