Thursday, January 13, 2011

Department Store Building of the ... Golden Triangle (1)

I prefer to post about obscure stores in smaller cities, but my wife's cousin Larry Stratton, visiting Stover Constitution fellow at Waynesburg College, told me about a recent visit to the Macy's in downtown Pittsburgh, he having just moved to Western Pennsylvania. Before the Great Macyization, of course, this was Kaufmann's Department Store, Fifth Avenue at Smithfield Street, one of America's largest department stores.

Kaufmann's is probably more known for the architectural leadership of Edgar J. Kaufmann, who hired Frank Lloyd Wright for Fallingwater and Richard Neutra for his summer house in Palm Springs, and his son Edgar Jr. In "Merchant Princes," one of the essential department store books, Leon Harris makes clear that Edgar J. was a man much like John F. Kennedy -- terribly handsome, incredibly charming, a connoisseur of the finer things, and randy as a rabbit.

Edgar Kaufmann took control of the family store through both force of personality and marrying his first cousin. This did not sit well with all the Kaufmanns, though. Two, Ludwig and Theodore, decamped to start Kaufmann & Baer Company a block away, which in the mid-1920s was sold to Gimbel Brothers. The Gimbels liked the Kaufmanns, making one manager of their Philadelphia store and keeping another involved in Pittsburgh, but it appears they did not like Ludwig, who went over to Penn Avenue, near Horne's, and opened the Kaufmann-Looby Company.

The vice president of this was Frances Looby, who may have been the Philadelphia woman whose case against her bigamist artist husband drew attention two decades earlier. Frances Looby had been a buyer for Kaufmann & Baer, but nothing seems to indicate that Ludwig's tastes were as wide-ranging as Edgar's.

In an earlier post I wrongly stated that Kaufmann-Looby was sold to Gimbels instead of Kaufmann & Baer. Also, earlier I stated that the Bon-Ton in Lebanon, Pa., seemed to have no connection to the Bon-Ton chain out of York, Pa. Corporately, that is correct; the Lebanon store, formally known as Louis Samler Inc., had no connection to S. Grumbacher & Sons, the York firm. The Lebanon Bon-Ton passed into the hands of Allied Stores very early; the Grumbachers have the Bon-Ton stores even today. And at the time I thought it was so.

But a story published in 2010 in the Lebanon Daily News makes the connection: Samler's wife was a Grumbacher. Still to be determined by me is whether Samler invented the Bon-Ton name, or Max Grumbacher -- or had the father, Samuel Grumbacher, used it in his store in Trenton, N.J.? Anyone know?

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