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San Francisco's Department Stores of Yore

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Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

San Francisco Emporium on Market Street, 1904 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

In honor of the shopping madness that is Black Friday/Cyber Monday, we thought we'd take a look back at the old model of holiday shopping - the department store. The Targets of their day, department stores offered a little something for everyone, and any cultured city worth its snuff had a few.

Pflueger-designed I. Magnin building, 1948 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

I. Magnin was founded in 1876 by an Englishman named Isaac Magnin and his Dutch wife Mary Ann Magnin. The store initially sold items for babies and bridal wear (impressive considering San Francisco's female population at that point was around 1 for every 10 men). The type of merchandise expanded when the Magnins' sons entered the business, but the store was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and rebuilt at Grant and Geary Streets. By the 1940s it was sold, eventually becoming Macy's in 1994. The old location was demo'd in 1947 for a new building at Stockton and Geary Streets designed by Timothy Pflueger, which is still part of the Union Square Macy's today.


In 1850, Frenchman Felix Verdier founded The City of Paris store when his ship full of French goods sold out before even getting unloaded on dry land. The next year he returned again and opened the store, originally at Grant and Geary Streets. The flagship store at Union Square opened in 1896, and was a landmark until a bitter fight led to its demolition in 1980 for a new Neiman Marcus (the original rotunda and skylight were kept and can be seen inside the new building).


The Emporium opened at Market and 5th Streets in 1896, originally constructed to hold one tenant but eventually rented to several individual merchants. Soon it became the location of the already successful Golden Rule Bazaar. All but the front of the building was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, and reconstructed two years later. Designed by Albert Pissis (of Hibernia Bank and Flood Building fame), it was a destination for Northern California shoppers. The store closed permanently in 1996 to be redeveloped as part of the adjacent San Francisco Shopping Center (aka Westfield), but a historic preservation battle royale ensued. The originally construction plans called for preserving the building's façade and historic glass dome, but they failed to retain the front 65 feet of the original structure (the entrances and lobby, mostly) as required. A lawsuit followed, leading to a $2.5 million settlement that is used for preservation grants.

These are only a few - readers, have any favorites of your own?
· Early History of San Francisco Emporium [Virtual Museum of SF]
· The historic stores that helped build San Francisco [Examiner]
· Historic Preservation Fund Committee [SF Planning]
· Emporium developers to pay $2.5 million [SF Gate]
· I. Magnin resurrected in glossy book [SF Gate]