The Emporium 1940s : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I was wondering if anyone knows about a place, maybe it was a factory, called the Emporium in the 1940s. My grandparents used to work there in the early '40s and I was trying to find out as much information as possible about it.

-- Jordan Cavalieri (, December 17, 1999


The Emporium was a huge department store on Market Street across from Powell. It only closed a few years ago. Could this be the Emporium your grandparents worked for? The "Big E", as it was affectionately known, was a San Francisco landmark for nearly a century and at its height had branch stores in Stonestown, Northgate Mall in Marin and many other suburuban locations. As a side note, my mom worked there briefly in 1945 and was trapped in a streetcar on Market Street during the celebratory riot that followed Japan's surrender.

-- John Martini (, December 17, 1999.

The Emporium dated before 1906. It was gutted on April 18, but rebuilt using the same shell. The massive glass dome was the main attraction. It illuminated the entire interior of each floor. On the main floor, below it, at one time you could have light refreshments.

-- Bill Roddy (, May 06, 2000.

The big E was a big deal at Christmas...especially for me..elaborate window displays and on I think the 5th floor Santa's workshop...even though we lived in the Avenues and I sat on Santa's Lap at Stonestown and later went on the Roof Rides..anyone remember those?? Downtown was where the action sat on Santa's lap and got your picture taken...then they gave you a ticket and you went to this chimney type chute for boys one for girls and a present rocketed down..and it wasn't even Christmas yet!!I think they also had some kind of little skating rink up there too.....Also the City of Paris and Podesta Baldocchi ruled as far as Christmad decor went.

-- Kathy Gori (, November 13, 2000.

The "Big E," The Emporium, the large department store on Market Street, existed at least back to 1899. I have a set of photos of my grandfather taken in "The Emporium Photography Studio, Market Street" dated November 1899. At the inside entrance were 3 sets of large glass revolving doors, the one in the center being the biggest, so as children we always wanted to go through the main door and push the glass ourselves. In the very early 40's they even had a doorman stationed just inside. It was the place to meet your friends to go shopping; we would say, "Meet me at the Emporium," and wait for each other under the front arcade entrance. It was beautiful building with floors and spiral staircases made of white marble with dark flecks and lines, wood panelling and a huge glass dome that illuminated the interior. The upper floors were arranged around this interior open space so that the building always had plenty of light. The elevators had old-fashioned wrought iron grills as doors, and the long long escalators took forever. At Christmas it was very special enchanted place, with lights & moving decorations in the front windows, and the Rooftop set up for Christmas with rides including a small ferris wheel, merry-go-round and a tiny skating rink. You could see the city's rooftops from the top of the ferris wheel, which was both fun and a bit scary; or buy pink cotton candy and hot chocolate while waiting in line to see Santa. The store carried every product imaginable; it included a candy shop & bookstore, and the cream & green-painted restaurant & soda fountain in the basement served great milkshakes. A set of chimes would ring, one, twice, then three times to warn you that you had 15, 10, or 5 minutes before closing time. After all these years, I still have fond memories of the place; it remains my favorite department store of all times, much better than the City of Paris.

-- Gloria Delgado (, November 21, 2000.

My first job in SF was assistant store planner/designer for the Emporium in 1979. Our office was on the roof above the glass dome and I ate my lunch next to the old cable car and early SF birdcage stoplight up there. The Emporium was the first building in SF to use electric light on the exterior. The lighting was a very big event which was promoted in a full page of the newspaper. It also had the first lit escalators, which are documented in a book about art deco architecture. I was told that in the early days, the employees in their dark suits and gloves would line the main aisle from the grand staircase to the front door. The manager would walk down the stairs, inspecting his employees and greeting them, and would ceremoniously unlock the doors for the day's customers. The Emporium still retained their original lease papers because a quick thinking employee stuffed them into a mail bag and tossed them into Jesse St. Alley before fleeing from the 1906 fire. A post man recognized the bag and picked them up, returning the important documents to the store later. I viewed these papers which were kept in a safe. I understand that after the 1906 earthquake, the facade would not come down, even with dynamite, and it was decided to let it remain for rebuilding. There was a famous promenade behind the front arches, where lovers would meet and look at the store windows together. The bargain basement was a messy, but fun place to shop. On the main floor was a two story bandstand under the glass dome, which later became a cafe. Some famous opera singers performed there. I remember seeing photos of the upper floor departments like ribbons and laces, with rows of old glass cabinets and wonderful fantasy displays. Our design office had old wood drafting equipment and pencils in metal tins in the cabinets. I wonder what happened to all the historical items and photos this store kept in its special events office!!!???...not to mention the same items from Oakland's H.C. Capwell & Co. which merged with Emporium in the early 80's.

-- Barbara Corff (, December 22, 2000.

I remember the Emporium, in the early-mid 1960s. I was pretty young, so I don't recall any of the grand amenities that the Big E was known for. Except, of course, for Christmas! Seems like it took forever for the escalators to climb upward...Then, once I saw the blue-tinted skylight above, I knew I made it. The Roof Rides! The rides I remember were those little motor-scooters, boats and whatever other cars that were painted with bright sparkle colors, as I happily went in circles (Funny I don't remember the merry-go-round...anyone have info as to what kind it was, and where it is now?). I have one unused Roof Rides ticket, as my keepsake. And a few photos with Santa. BTW, I'm interested in any Roof Rides photos...

-- Sharon Marie (, February 04, 2001.

One replier mentioned the cable car and another mentioned the roof rides. I went every year.

I have a photo of the cable car on the roof of the Emporium on my Cable Car Home Page:

Go to San Francisco/Ferries and Cliff House Railway/More Ferries and Cliff House Pictures. Ray Long took the photo in 1949. The car was Sacramento/Clay car 16.

-- Joe Thompson (, February 06, 2001.

I worked at the Emporium at Chriatmas (1947). Although from Oakland it was an event to go there for the rides on the roof garden as a child. One time in the 1940s maybe 47-48 a big attraction was a baby elephant. Was a great place and like so many, hate to see it gone,but guess a different era now.

-- Cecelia Shoptaw (, September 22, 2002.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, from 1968, until I left the city with my husband in 1989. The Emporium is one of my biggest shopping memories. My sister and I went there often with my mother and my grandparents. At Christmas time, we would even go with my father to pick out a present for our mother. It was wonderful at Christmas time, when the whole store was decorated, and we got to sit on Santa Claus's lap. I still have old pictures of us with Santa in the folder with the big red E on it. We also loved the little carnival they had on the roof at Christmas. For the last eight years, I have been in Arizona, and I haven't really gone back to the City, so I was surprised and disappointed to find out the original downtown store was closed now.

-- Terri Nichols (, October 29, 2002.

blockquote> i have recently devleoped a way of telling if someone is funny by three sentences they have written. so, what im wondering is, am i funny? by the way, my name doesnt count.cos this really is my name. dont worry, im not thinking about a lawsuit. im thinking about cheese. yes, so id really preciate it if one or many people came up with some sort of funny test. i anticipate questions to which humourus or unhumourus aswers must be given. and u lot remind me of rhebus monkeys.

-- Scott M. Hall (ivecrashedtheserver@hotm, October 30, 2002


真 真真真真真真真真真真真真真真真真真真, October 30, 2002.

-- sameasabove ( , October 30, 2002.

It is an interesting fact that Scott Hall is my uncle.

-- King Sean M. Hall I (sanfranciscofanclub@g, October 30, 2002.

-- Sean M Hall (sean@hall.bastard), October 31, 2002.

Like everybody else mentioned, the most memorable emporium was the one on Market street.My aunt and uncle took my brother, my sister and I to that emporium every christmas season from the early 1990's to the last christmas season before emporium closed for good.My brother and sister would always ride on the roof rides, but I (being very little at the time) was always too afraid to.My favorite area of that emporium (and the only one I remember well) was the attic, with banners hanging from the ceiling which read; "you never know what you'll find in the attic!" It had a model train set in one part, clearance items (and maybe kitchenware) in another, and a collection of old (1920s?) appliances near the elevators.One of the elevator cars didn't seem to work, by the way.Even if you pressed the button, it wouldn't come.It was probably old.The escalators were in a very strange location; somewhere on the side of the store, and I also remember them being slow.Oh, it's all coming back to me now.That old store had a lot of character, and it's a shame it closed.I wonder what happened to those old appliances after the store closed.

-- justin karimzad (, July 02, 2003.

Here's the notes and a link to an old photo I found of Market Street right near the old Emporium.

-- Rosa (, July 03, 2003.

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