Posts Tagged ‘retail postcards’

DEPARTMENT STORES OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – EMPORIUM – SAN FRANCISCO

Friday, March 11th, 2011

 

Emporium – Market Street – San Francisco – 1905 (pre earthquake)

THE EMPORIUM – SAN FRANCISCO – CALIFORNIA’S LARGEST AND AMERICA’S GRANDEST DEPARTMENT STORE…..

The Emporium in San Francisco was the first and later became the largest and for many years the most important department store in San Francisco. The store, because of its size and convenience to transportation, helped turn Market Street into a shopping Mecca. The store offered popular or value priced merchandise. It also had special events to draw customers such as band concerts every Saturday night under the glass dome.

The original store was started in 1872 as the Golden Rule Bazaar. At the time, it was the only large store on the West Coast and was designed to serve those following the gold rush. It grew to operate out of three different buildings. During those years the store was operated by the Davis brothers.

In 1893Adolph Feist leased a building on Market Street with plans to open a major department store through a partnership with one of the major retailers in the East. When the partnership strategy failed he rented out space in the building to various small entrepreneurs. In 1896, the doors opened under the name The Emporium. Soon after, Mr. Frederick W. Dohrmann became involved. He was a German immigrant who had come to the S.F. Bay Area in 1860 and had proven himself successful in flour milling and pottery merchandising. He understood the possibilities of the original department store plan and ended up leading the 1897 merger of the Golden Rule Bazaar and the Emporium into one entity in the space that Adolph Feist had leased. He then brought his son, A.B.C. Dohrmann, in as the president.  The younger Dohrmann built the systems and procedures to allow the different departments to work together. The store quickly became successful under his leadership. He remained President until his death in 1914.

The Emporium suffered major damage in the 1906 earthquake and fire. While the store was being rebuilt, a temporary store was opened on Van Ness Avenue. A new building was built on Market Street. The new building had 775,000 square feet of floor space. It had a glass arcade, a glass dome, solid mahogany fixtures, and a new grocery department. The design was intended to make this store as glamorous as anything found in the East.

In 1927, the Emporium merged with H. C. Capwell & Co. based in Oakland. The new holding company was named Emporium-Capwell. The two different divisions operated independently for years only merging their New York and overseas buying offices. The Emporium started to grow with stores on the San Francisco Peninsula, Santa Clara County, Marin County, and Sonoma County. Capwell’s, on the other hand, opened stores in Alameda County and Contra Costa County.

The Emporium-Capwell company was acquired by Broadway Hale Stores in 1969. This put together Broadway (Southern California), Weinstock’s (Sacramento), Emporium (San Francisco) and Capwell’s (Oakland) into one holding company under the name Carter Hawley Hale Stores (CHH). CHH then went on a major acquisition binge which resulted in significant debt. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1991. In 1992, the Zell/Chilmark fund bought CHH and renamed it Broadway Stores as the company emerged from bankruptcy protection. In 1996, Broadway Stores was sold to Federated Department Stores and they closed all the various divisions and either converted the stores to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, or sold the facilities.

The downtown San Francisco store has mostly been converted into a Nordstrom’s anchoring the San Francisco Center mall.

What happened???? The Emporium remained a dominant department store chain in the San Francisco Bay Area until the 1970’s. Then Ed Finkelstein and Phil Schlein led a rejuvenated Macy’s organization which took the market by surprise. The new Cellar department and the fashion forward Juniors and Young Mens departments captured the youth and early adult markets. Macy’s also put money into the look of their stores setting them apart from the Emporium which did not have capital available for the stores as the parent company had to service its debt. By the mid-80’s, Macy’s was clearly the dominant player. Because Emporium was a value priced department store chain, they also faced pressure from Mervyn’s which offered better values and more convenience. The explosion of good specialty retailers also took market share. During the construction of BART, the downtown San Francisco store suffered as Market Street was a mess and this drove shoppers to the Union Square area. In the end, it was the recklessness of the parent company that destroyed the Emporium and all the other divisions of CHH.

I knew the Emporium well both as a young customer and later as a competitor. When I was a young child, I came with my parents to shop in San Francisco. Modesto was just 80 miles away, but in those days it was a major trip. We had our car serviced before we made the drive and we stayed in a hotel for three days while we shopped for back to school, Christmas, and for Spring/Summer. Although we shopped in many stores (White House, City of Paris, Macy’s, and Hale’s), the Emporium was the targeted store. Not only did it have the merchandise we could afford, but it was also a grand place to take children. During the holidays the roof had a children’s playground/amusement park. There was a Ferris wheel ride that hung out over the front of the store looking straight down at Market Street. There was also a small Southern Pacific passenger train that kids could ride. (The last time I saw the train it was at model train store in the Sunset District.) In those days, the store had a pet department with live animals which was also a playground for the kids. We usually ate in the mezzanine cafeteria. In the mid-70’s I shopped the Emporium when I worked at Bullock’s in Los Angeles and later when I was at Mervyn’s. In those days you could see a lack of excitement in fashion apparel, a decline in customer service, and, most importantly, a decline in the maintenance of the facilities.

NOTE:  I treasure my memories of this Grand Dame of Retail and hope you will too. Please feel free to leave your memories in the comments section below.

The Emporium – San Francisco – 1904 – Pre Earthquake

Emporium – 1910 – Note Earthquake Reconstruction on Roof Nextdoor

The Emporium – San Francisco – 1910

The Emporium – San Francisco – Holiday Greetings – 1910

The Emporium – 1911

The Emporium – Temporary Store on Van Ness – 1908

Emporium – Entrance Arcade – 1905 – Pre Earthquake

Ekmporium – Entrance Arcade – 1911 – Post Earthquake

Emporium – San Francisco – The Grand Staircase – 1915

The Emporium – Rotunda, Cafe, & Bandstand – 1908 – Pre Earthquake

The Emporium – Bandstand – 1906 – Note Sender’s Comments

Emporium – Rotunda – After Earthquake Reconstruction

Emporium – Pre 1906 – Women’s Cloaks & Suits

The Emporium – Juvenile Section – Pre 1906

The Emporium – Oriental Section – Pre 1906

Emporium – 1912- Cafe – Note Fire Sprinkler System on Ceiling

Emporium – Cafe – 1915

Emporium – 1908 Calendar – Sent from Temporary Store

The Emporium – 1908 Calendar – Sent from Temporary Store

Emporium – Postcard Calendar – 1909 – Sent From Temporary Store

The Emporium – 1920′s – Gloves Trade Card

The Emporium = 1910

The Emporium – 1920′s – Trade Stamp

The Emporium – 1906 After Earthquake and Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – Smoldering Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – After the Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – Another View After the Fire

The Emporium – 1906 – After The Fire Looking Through Former Entrance

Emporium – 1907 – Postcard Envelop Containing Earthquake and Fire Postcards

San Francisco City Hall

Emporium – Panorama of the City of San Francisco After Earthquake and Fire.

Emporium – 1906 Earthquake and Fire Burning the Metropolitain Temple

Emporium – 1906 Fire Destroys Concordia Club

Emporium – 1906 – Ruins of St. Ignatius Cathedral and College

Emporium – 1906 – Earthquake and Fire Refugee Camp

Emporium – 1906 – Refugee Camp in Cemetary

The Emporium – 1906 – The Entrance After Fire and Earthquake

These postcards are from the Plummer & Associates Collection. Please do not copy or reproduce without written permission from John Plummer.

Northern California Department Stores – City of Paris – San Francisco

Friday, January 28th, 2011

.

CITY OF PARIS DRY GOODS COMPANY

City of Paris – 1904

Felix Verdier owned a silk-stocking manufacturing company in Nimes, France.  In 1850 he chartered a ship, Ville de Paris, to bring silks, laces, and fine wines, champagne, and cognac to San Francisco. His ship was met in the Bay by boatloads of newly wealthy 49ers, brandishing bags of gold. As the story goes, he sold all the products before the ship was even docked. Felix Verdier immediately returned to France and reloaded with fresh merchandise destined this time for the store he opened at 152 Kearney Street and named the City of Paris.

The City of Paris became the premier department store in San Francisco.  By 1896, a larger store in a Beaux-Arts design featuring an open atrium was built at Stockton and Geary Streets. In 1906, the big earthquake and resulting fires destroyed much of the store’s interior. A temporary store was established on Van Ness while the interior was redesigned by John Bakewell and Arthur Brown. Its open atrium was topped with a magnificent stained glass dome depicting the ship, Ville de Paris.

The rebuilt store became a showcase for retailing in San Francisco. It was opulent and continued to be stocked with merchandise of French design and manufacture. The liquor department was well regarded for its French influence as this was before the development of Napa Valley. Brentano’s took over the book department and became the largest volume bookstore west of Denver. Every Christmas season, the store set up a beautifully decorated tree in the Atrium. Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist, deemed it the official Christmas tree for San Francisco. Reportedly, he tree was 50 to 60 feet tall.

In the 1960’s, the City of Paris’ fortunes declined. It was no longer as highly profitable as consumer tastes changed and competitors became stronger. Macy’s, for example, had copied the basement theme of the Normandy Lane in the City of Paris and created The Cellar. (Later, Macy’s took The Cellar concept to their other stores and divisions.) The Verdier family decided to close the store in 1972. I think there are many who will remember the KFRC radio station studios which were on the first floor so pedestrians could see the studios through the window.

The City of Paris did open suburban branches. They opened one in Vallejo in the 1940’s. They also opened boutique shops in some of the better hotels. The branch stores never proved highly successful.

After the closing, Amfac bought the store in San Francisco and converted it to their Liberty House department store division. The new store was called Liberty House at the City of Paris. Liberty House quickly discovered that it was a difficult facility to operate on a profitable basis so they built a new store next door on Stockton Street. They sold the old building to Neiman Marcus who immediately announced plans to demolish the landmark building and replace it with a modern store.

The reaction in San Francisco to the announced destruction of this landmark was unbelievable. Herb Cain, the noted columnist, took on the fight as did many of the citizens of San Francisco. Although the building was not saved, an agreement was reached in which the dome and some of the important historic décor was saved and put into the new store. The replacement store is an important part of the retailing community in San Francisco as the dome has been preserved and Neiman Marcus is a respected retailer. The new fake tree at Christmas, unfortunately, does not meet the standards of the citizens who remember the old City of Paris tree.

What happened????     Many things worked in the favor of the City of Paris. The upscale shopping district moved from Market Street to the Union Square area. Unfortunately, City of Paris remained a small retailer with little market clout. In addition, consumer tastes were changing as apparel brands were becoming strong. American wines were also growing stronger. Most importantly, I. Magnin’s was located across the street and had captured the carriage trade. Macy’s California was under the leadership of Ed Finkelstein and he upgraded that chain from a promotional value oriented department store to one with style and a healthy upper moderate merchandise mix. He developed The Cellar concept and went after the younger customers with successful Junior and Young Mens departments. Most importantly, the Macy’s San Francisco main store was also on Union Square and its excitement drew many customers. I also believe that the succeeding family members did not have the interest or flair to take the store where it needed to go to be competitive.

I remember the City of Paris well. Every back to school season and for many Christmas seasons my family would visit the retail stores in San Francisco. The City of Paris store was something we always had to see even though we could not afford much of the merchandise the store carried. We always came to see the Christmas tree! When I was at Bullock’s I would continue to visit the store on trips to San Francisco. I watched the store in decline, but it was still an example to me of a store carrying unique product, with historic design and décor, and with superior customer service.

At the time the building was to be demolished, a colleague from Bullock’s was the head of Neiman Marcus. He could not understand why the citizens were so upset since the building was of a design that could not be operated on a profitable level. He did want the location so he worked to a compromise to save the dome and some of the decor. Most older San Franciscan’s still cannot accept the outside architecture of the store. To them the new building looks like a typical suburban store (without windows) plopped onto a city corner.

1906 – After the Earthquake and Fire. Structure Sound/Inside Burned

City of Paris – 1905 – Camp Crocker on Union Square

City of Paris – 1910 -Celebration

Union Square – 1904 – City of Paris

Union Square – 1915 – City of Paris (Note: Dohrman’s Across Street)

Union Square – 1944 – City of Paris – (Note: I Magnin Replaces Dohrman’s)

City of Paris – 1907 – Temporary Store After Earthquake on Van Ness

City of Paris – 1911 – After Earthquake Renovation

Rotunda 1915

City of Paris – Christmas Tree – 1911

City of Paris – Christmas Tree in Atrium

City of Paris – Christmas Tree – 1950′s

Christmas Tree 1961

 

I hope all who shopped or worked at the City of Paris Dry Goods Company will feel free to memorialize their impressions of this beautiful store by writing in the COMMENTS section below.

NOTE: Please do not copy any of these postcards without the written permission of John Plummer. These cards took years to collect.