Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Department Store Building of the...

I do like to post pictures and buildings of more obscure stores, because their histories are often unheralded, but my wife's cousin Larry Stratton, visiting Stover Constitutional fellow at Waynesburg College and thus a new resident of western Pennsylvania, mentioned that he had been at Macy's in downtown Pittsburgh recently. That survivor of the Great Macyization, of course, is the former Kaufmann's Department Store, below, at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street, famous as much for the architectural patronage of Edgar Kaufmann and his son Edgar Jr. at Fallingwater and in Palm Springs as for its own prominence on the department store scene and its building, one of America's largest department stores.

One of the essential books on department stores is "Merchant Princes" by Leon Harris, scion of A. Harris & Co. in Dallas, which goes into great detail on Edgar Kaufmann, who reads as somewhat of a Jack Kennedy type figure -- incredibly handsome, terrifically ambitious, a connoisseur of the fine things in life, and incurably horny, sort of a type-AAA personality. Kaufmann drove out of the store those relatives who didn't support him, partly by marrying his first cousin, which gave him a controlling interest. Unlike in most families, they all didn't go quietly. Ludwig and Theodore Kaufmann showed their displeasure by opening a competing department store,  Kaufmann & Baer Co., a block away on Smithfield. In 1926, Kaufmann & Baer was sold to Gimbel Brothers, which liked not only the store but the Kaufmann family -- one member was installed as manager of Gimbels in Philadelphia, another stayed with Gimbels in Pittsburgh. It appears, though, that the Gimbels did not like Ludwig Kaufmann, who, undaunted, moved over to Penn Avenue and brought forth yet another department store, Kaufmann-Looby Company. (A much earlier post had Kaufmann-Looby becoming Gimbels, and has been corrected.)

Frances Looby had been a buyer for Kaufmann & Baer, and may have been a Philadelphia native betrayed in 1907 by her bigamist husband, a painter named Eugene Jones. Or she may not have -- the wonders of the Internet do not include obscure officials of long-ago department stores. Ludwig Kaufmann, who ends up being part of the interrelationship of the Gimbel and Guggenheim families, died in 1957 in Pittsburgh without any reference to any relationship other than professional with Frances Looby. But Ludwig's timing was off this time; the Depression hit, Kaufmann-Looby disappeared, and Ludwig built no more.


Another correction. An earlier post mentioned the Bon-Ton in Lebanon, Pa., and noted it was separate from the Bon-Ton stores owned by the Grumbacher family out of York, Pa. This is true. What I did not know at the time was that Louis Samler, owner of the Lebanon Bon-Ton, was married to a Grumbacher. This article from March 2010 in the Lebanon Daily News makes the connection clear. There was no business connection -- the Lebanon store early passed into the hands of Allied Stores and eventually became a Pomeroy's -- and I still do not know which was the first to use the name "Bon-Ton."

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