Thursday, August 25, 2011

Department Store Building of ... Happy Valley

It's been far too long since I posted a department store building photo. This is one I know well -- the former Danks & Co. store in State College, Pa., address 148 S. Allen St.

Danks & Co. was based in Lewistown, about a half-hour south of State College. Lewistown was the shopping center for a large range of industrial small towns. Its iconic store was E.E. McMeen & Co., which became a branch of the Bon Ton chain from York, Pa., during its second expansion in the 1950s. Danks was founded by George Danks of Burnham, Pa., one of those towns, in 1924. It operated various branches, one of which opened in State College in 1942 in a moderne-designed building rare for a department store, let alone one in a small town.

Although Penn State made State College a reasonably sized city, college towns were rarely draws for regional business. To serve the students and the professors, they often had to have a different mix of merchandise than was wanted by the residents of surrounding towns and farms. Thus, the Danks store in State College was not large.

The Danks chain closed in 1995, including the Lewistown store -- which, along with the Bon Ton, had been rebuilt in suburban strip-mall style, though still downtown, in an urban renewal effort. To me, Danks in State College remains the building where I first had lunch at a Panera Bread location with Brad Thompson, who then taught at Penn State and now is at Linfield College in Oregon. The building's main use is to house the Penn State Theater Center. Now, that's adaptive reuse -- bread and circuses, so to speak.

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