Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Old Glamour Houses

Old ,luxe ,elegant department stores have always intrested me. The other day I was thinking of all the grand dames who aren't around anymore ,or are barely hanging on. I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun, and over on Miss Ginger Grant's blog she too posted about retail business and some stores no longer around. It is sort of depressing that some of these gems are gone. You may remember some of them. These are some of the few I was in and are my favorites, What was or is your favorite store?

John Wanmaker's was my families store to shop. We generally shopped the Harrisburg store or the Center City flagship in Philadelphia. It was started in 1861 by John Wanamaker. The flagship was a 12 story ornate building that houses the worlds largest playing pipe organ. Wanamakers was famous for it's Americian and European fashions, honest reputation, incredible architecture and design, and there service. When we went to the Philly store you could be in there all day! The famous Crystal Tea Room was where all the Philly socialites had there lunches held. They even had a epicurian food market! The company was eventually absorded by Hechts and then Macy's. Macy's ,who reduced the flagship to only four floors got criticized for also closing the popular Crystal Tea Room, building in the perimeter walls and covering up lots of the historic design. They did however keep the tradition of the After noon Wanamaker Pipe Organ show going to this day, everyday at noon! If you are ever in Philly you must stop to see and hear it. It's amazing. All the branch stores became a Lord&Taylor or a Macy's.

I.Magnin was a upscale and elegant store founded by Mary Magnin and named after her husband Issac. Magnin's was very luxurious and chic in interior design,architecture and goods. It was the best shopping in San Franscio and was said to offer the best service of any store on both coasts -to date. I can remember when we went to see our family who lived out there at the time. They took us to I.Magnin's ,and I remember being in awe of the store. Ultimately in the early 1980's during the department store junk bond crisis,it was bought out by Bullocks,and then Macy's who closed the flagship and all the branches.

Bonwit Tellers started in 1906 in New York by Paul Bonwit and Ed Teller,and specialized in very high end women's couture and accessories,and then carried apparel for the whole family. The stores were very ornate inside,almost museum like. I can remember shopping with my mother in Bonwit Tellers when I was young,for back to school shopping in Philadelphia. The chandeliers were so big and ornate I hadn't seen anything like them before. In 1989 the company declared bankruptcy and closed it's doors. Donald Trump demolished the lavish flagship in New York City to make room for his Trump Tower,and the Philadelphia store became Alas- a Daffy's.

<Marshall Fields was the crown jewel of Chicago in it's magnificent flagship store and grew to a major chain before being acquired by Macy's in 2005. The flagship was founded by Marshall Field in 1881 and was always a very elegant and grand store catering to the upper middle class. The flagship in Chicago ceased to exist in September 2006 when it became Macy's officially and all the remaining branches were closed down. The day the name change took place a huge crowd grew outside and vowed to never shop there again under Macy's name.

B Altmans was also a very lavish store now shuttered. It was on Fifth Avenue and catered to a very affluent crowd. The Altman family built the "palace of trade",where when complete,took a whole city block,and B.Altmans was the first store to introduce Ready-to Wear goods. After closing their doors,the building now house The Oxford University Press and New York Public Library's Science,Industry and Business Library moved in.

Last Christmas was my the first time to Henri Bendell. What a elegant and chic store. They have been around since 1896 and established by Henri Bendell and is now owned by the Limited Brands. The chic boutique department store with it's gold guiling and Lalique windows is famous for their brown and white stripe shopping bag and their extensive line of cosmetic lines. Bendel was also the first store to bring the designs of Coco Chanel over from Paris,and introduce the concept of boutiques-with in-a speciality store. They too are down to this one store on Fifth Avenue.

If you ever make it to New York and haven't been to Berdorf Goodman you must stop just to see the beauty of the store.Started in in 1899 by Herman Berdorf and Edwin Goodman on Fifth Avenue it was the pinnacle of high Art Deco design and height of elegance and is said to be the the expensive store in the world. It is one opulent store and the displays are just amazing. In 2003 Neiman-Marcus bought Berdorfs in it's slump and now operates it's only store on Fifth Avenue.


  1. OMG! I almost cried when Magnin's closed. The San Francisco store had the best ladies room of all time. And they were the only store that carried Caron fragrances, my fave back then. My mom still has the Armani suit and the Majorca pearls she picked up at severe discount when they were closing. (Have I mentioned that I was raised by a fashionista?)

  2. I miss John Wanamaker's. Going to the East Mall store with Vera was like watching someone worshipping at church - she LOVED that store.

    And I always went to the Center City store every time I went to Philly.

    B. Altman's was still in business when I moved to NYC - but I never went. I guess since I worked at Macy's, the LAST place I wanted to be was at another department store.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!!


  3. Oh, I forgot - I miss the old Pomeroy's in downtown Harrisburg - Mom worked nearby (for the state), and would give me her charge card when I would visit her at the office. I bought an Asian kimono robe once - what a Queen!!!


  4. Wow, Miss Maddie! You spent a lot of time researching and pulling pics for this very educational and interesting post!

  5. I miss Marshall Fields! To this day I still have a huge number of friends that refuse to shop Macy's.

  6. Anonymous12/04/2008

    God,I must be old. I forgot about alot of these stores. What a great post Mistress Maddie. One of my favorite stores was Dayton Hudson. But Marshall Foelds wasn't far behind.

  7. Kailyn- You guys seem likesome serious shoppers with really good taste. Right up the Mistress's alley.

    Mamie- And I remember Vera's "spells" from Wanamakers. Durning sales you had to buy her new bloomers because of the worshipping! It was sad went it left. It still seems strange to not see it there anymore after all these years. A Asian kimono? And they thought I was the queen.

  8. Dan-In my research I saw there was a number of protesters there the day the name change took place. Now thats loyality.

  9. I remember reading about Magnins. When I was growing up, Straus was the Big Store around here. If you shopped there, you were RICH!

    Does Old Navy count as one of those old fashion houses? ;)

  10. Beth- I think we can count it as one of the fashion houses. And I think I remember Stauss as in A&S!

  11. Anonymous12/04/2008

    My favorite department store was always Donnckers,right outside of Lancaster. It was always so beautiful there,and it to recently closed,like a month ago!

  12. Anonymous12/04/2008

    Mistress,you know my favorite is Needless Markups!

  13. I don't think its anyone's fault that these opulent, luxury stores have become a thing of the past. Times change, people change, and retail must also change. Still, some of those places were just stunning inside, and that beauty will be missed.

  14. Wow! What a trip down memory lane! A great post! I remeber visiting many of these very fine stores. It's a shame so many of them are gone!

  15. John Wanamakers was the place to shop in Philly and no where else. It looks so junked up now that Macy's took it over.

  16. Wow! What a great, in dept look at some of the old grande retailers!!! Those were the days when those stores had such great interiors and were so stunning! And the service was un-parreled. Talk about memory lane. Thank you for such a intresting post Mistress!

  17. Anonymous2/15/2012

    Excellent research! There's a few other defunct Philadelphia department stores worth adding to the list:

    Strawbridge & Clothier: Certainly the largest of the region's chains, it too was absorbed in the massive department store consolidation in 2005, when May (which owned the Hecht's brand) merged with Federated. Many of Strawbridge's locations became Macy's stores, but the flagship on Market St. is just an underused husk now. The combined company already operated the Wanamaker building as a Lord & Taylor (now a pretty grim Macy's branch), so the Strawbridge's building was sold off to a real estate trust.

    Gimbels: Occupied the site across from Strawbridge's, leveled up for an unrealized Disney project. Now a parking lot.

    Lit Brothers: 1893-1977. Distinctive flagship building now offices with discount retail on the ground floor. Renamed for Mellon Bank, which has been through several of its own name changes.

    Nan Duskin: More a luxury boutique with department store qualities, not unlike Bergdorf Goodman. Operated 1927 to 1995. Main 1960s/70s building on Walnut Street was modified and turned into an H&M a few years back, with a soon-to-close Esprit occupying the western part of the building.

    It's depressing to think who might be next. How strong financially is Bloomingdales? Or Saks? These stores have so much competition from specialty retail and the web, and their overhead is so high. If you love an old store, go out of your way to patronize it; it's very likely it won't be there without you.


Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!