Emporium in the 50s and 60s

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Does anybody know what Emporium was like in the 50s and 60s. What was the store layout(Floor by Floor. And do you remeber what I Magnin was like?

-- Mike Schaeffer (oreo37@comcast.net), September 04, 2003


Yes, I know what the Emporium was like in the 50s and 60s because I used to shop there all the time. Basically, it was not much different in the 70s and 80s either except for the food stands they opened in the basement. At Christmas, they use to open their rooftop so the kiddies could get a fun Ferris Wheel ride. There was something special about being able to access the roof for Christmas. Funny thing, if the Emporium were open today, I could go back there tomorrow like nothing had ever changed. There was never ever the mob scene up there like there is today at that overpriced piece of garbage called Nordstrum's. I avoid that place like the plague it is. And by the way, the architects who designed it are brainless as they wasted a lot of precious space on the way they set up the escalator. The Emporium floor layout. Well, it's not that easy to remember. It had a basement. I remember they sold kitchen stuff and cooking things in the basement. Men's stuff was on the first floor. They had a watch repair also on the first floor. In the center of the first floor they had a stairway that went up to a little coffee shop of some sort halfway up between the first and second floors which gave a view of the entire first floor. I never ate there since I never believe in eating much and have always been on a super low calorie restricted diet my entire life which I am sure has a lot to do why I have lived so long. Don't remember what was on the second and third floors though one of those floors were women's things. Maybe both floors were. 4th floor had a toy section and also sold athletic wear. I didn't really shop there that much but it was a place to go on a rainy day.

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy*@bigmailbox.net), October 03, 2003.

Yes, Harry Murphy's rememberance of roof rides at Christmas was right on. But the thing I remember most, (being a kid in the 50's-60's) was the Rotunda Dome. The big round central part of the store, street level, and when you looked up, all around the dome were scenes from old San Francisco. Like I say, I was a kid, and as a little older kid, when I first heard about the Sistine Chapel, I immediatly thought about the Emporium. The scenes weren't quite on the ceiling, but they were pretty magical to me.

-- (oddmind@sbcglobal.net), October 15, 2003.

Before it was remodeled into a housewares/deli type of market, the Emporium basement used to be the BEST place to get good stuff cheap.

It was the Emporium's clearance and bargain space. The housewares and linens sometimes had surprise bargains. I bought four bath towels there once and found when I got home that some nice (sneaky?) person had folded two towels as one throughout the display. So I was very nicely furnished for about ten bucks.

One of the nicest things about the old Emporium was that you knew where you could find things. Unlike Macy's, which seems to rotate floor contents to make sure you gotta go through everything, the Emporium's departments were always in the same place.

Their coats and lingerie were a lot better than Macy's and the purse department was wonderful and just huge.

-- Rosa (rosadebon@yahoo.com), October 16, 2003.

Oh wow. I remember the Big E very well. As previously mentioned, prior to about 1978, the store had a huge bargain basement. It was a complete department store in and of itself, including a restaurant in the back. My first apartment was furnished in Early Emporium Basement. All that was gone in the late 70's and replaced with 'Market on Market' featuring an upscale deli, wines, bakery, and so on. They also moved housewares, silver, and china down there. On the main floor, prior to the remodel was menswear, books, silver, lingerie (odd, huh?) and, under the rotunda, table after table of bargains in an area called Dome Square (odd, again). After the 70's remodel, the bargain tables were gone and they recreated the 1910- era restaurant called the Dome Cafe. There were 2 restaurants on the mezzanine, a waitress-service cafe and a hof brau. Also on the mezzanine was a beauty salon and a bakery (which moved to the basement after the remodel). The second floor was all ladies wear. The third floor had furniture, and sheets and towels. At one time, there was a large television, stereo, and record department there too. I remember rushing to the Emporium television department in 1978 after a co-worker burst into the office and told us Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk had been shot and killed (no Internet and nobody had a radio). We all stood there in shock and disbelief as a visibly-shaken Dianne Feinstein held a press conference and told us the awful news. The fourth floor had a huge childrens department (my boy scout uniform came from there) and the most marvelous toy department (way before Toys R Us). After they closed their toy department in the 80's, they installed the Emporium Museum there. If you weren't paying attention and continued to ride the wonderful art-deco escalators too far, you ended up on the fifth floor which was all executive offices. In those pre-security concious days, they never seemed to mind me wandering around up there looking at all the wonderful 50's era sepia-toned photographs of San Francisco. I wonder what happened to all that when they tore the building down? Since the store was a conglomeration of different buildings, the fifth floor was also where they had the roof rides at Christmas and a real cable car (inactive) which had formerly operated on the Sacramento Street line (a good place for mom to wait while we rode the rides). On the 6th floor was an auditorium where they had ice skaters at Christmastime and, of course, Santa Claus. I remember that the Emporium had absolutely everything you could want: a post office, coin and stamp department, wine and liquor, magazines, books, records, a tobacco shop, watch repairs, shoe repairs, and so on. On Market Street they had a glassed-in arcade, filled with beautiful displays, through which you walked on your way in and out of the store. To give you an idea of how classy Market Street was in those days, my mother took my sister and I to the St Francis Theatre to see the roadshow production of 'Mary Poppins' in 1964 and beforehand, dressed in our hats and coats (and mom in her hat, coat, and gloves) we walked through the Emporium arcade and window-shopped with dozens of other people out for a Sunday stroll (remember, in those days, stores were closed on Sundays). The store had a big red "E" as their logo and used it liberally in their advertising and around the store. They were open Monday and Thursday nights and if you were in the store on those days, they had signs in all the windows and the elevators announcing "It's a Big E-vening! Shop tonight until 9". One last thing: at store opening (9:30 am), all the employees stood at attention while they played 'The Emporium March' over the loudspeakers. The march was again played at closing. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can still hum 'The Emporium March'. Thank you for letting me share my memories of this wonderful store.

-- Paul Engel (pengel@sharperimage.com), March 29, 2004.

I found this in Alison Lurie's "The Language of Clothes" and put it up for viewing:


The picture was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1952 and on the left side, you can see the edge of the old Emporium, and directly across the street you can see Hales and Grayson's, where the San Francisco Center now stands. You can also see one of the old Market Street streetcars.

-- Rosa (rosadebon@yahoo.com), March 30, 2004.

Paul Engle,

Your vivid description of the Emporium brings back my recollections of that building in the late 1950's (as a child) and the 1990's.

Question: What was the exact date that the Emporium closed? 1992? 1993?

What I remember, as a model train enthusiast, was the large train layout that was displayed during the holidays. I believe it was a permanent display that was partitioned off with fake walls, during the rest of the year. Part of the model was a representation of Market Street, the Powell Street cable car turnaround, an Emporioum building, and automobiles that "moved" on Market Street (really, a small conveyor belt with cars that were glued on). The automobiles/conveyor belt would go into a dark tunnel... only to appear coming out of a tunnel on the opposite side of the layout.

I still wonder.... what ever happened to that large layout?

If anyone knows, could you please post it?


-- John Chamberson (chamberson@aol.com), February 12, 2005.

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