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2019年2月13日 星期三

Chronicle Vault | When San Francisco department stores were royalty, I. Magnin was king

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019
 
 
When San Francisco department stores were royalty, I. Magnin was king
By Bill Van Niekerken
 
 
 
Barney Peterson / The Chronicle
 
 
 
In late January, Macy's announced it had sold the famous I. Magnin Building in Union Square. At its prime, I. Magnin was a shopping destination among destinations and a place to shop and be seen shopping among the city's elite.
 
 
 
A visit to The Chronicle's archive turned up some classic images of the building's construction and history, as well as I. Magnin's earlier history — 118 years of it — in San Francisco. When the store finally closed in 1995, two of The Chronicle's most well-known columnists of the 20th century wrote in its honor.
 
 
 
< < < See more photos of the I. Magnin building construction and inside the store here > > >
 
 
 
I. Magnin and Co. was founded in 1877 in San Francisco by Mary Ann Magnin and her husband, Isaac. Mary Ann set up a small shop in the city, where she made and sold fancy baby clothes alongside Isaac's wood carvings.
 
 
 
The store moved around San Francisco's retail hot spots, "gradually developing an exclusive clientele," The Chronicle wrote in Mary Ann Magnin's 1943 obituary. Advertisements for the store appeared in the pages of The Chronicle as early as 1900.
 
 
 
As the store expanded, "Mrs. Magnin saw to it that her buyers throughout the world kept her supplied with the choicest items."
 
 
 
The signature I. Magnin Building, a 10-story white marble store, opened on Union Square in 1948.
 
 
 
In a column written decades later, as I. Magnin closed, Herb Caen waxed nostalgic about the store's opening.
 
 
 
"We were all so proud," Caen wrote, because of the "genius of the late architect, Timothy Pflueger, the building was, and is still, the most beautiful in town."
 
 
 
Because of a steel shortage caused by World War II, the retailer's building had been built around the steel skeleton of the old Butler office building.
 
 
 
"A piece of cake," Pflueger told Caen. "The dimensions were already there — I just filled in the blanks with the best damn marble I ever saw."
 
 
 
"The interior was dazzling," Caen wrote, thinking back to the first days of the department store. "Especially the great main hall, two stories high, with its Lalique light fixtures, the gold ceilings, the glass murals, the expensively made cases."
 
 
 
Chronicle society columnist Pat Steger also joined in on the fond remembrances.
 
 
 
On Jan. 7, 1995, the day before I. Magnin's closed for good, she wrote about what it was like to shop and work at the "White Marble Palace" during its heyday.
 
 
 
"Those of us who have shopped there for 40 or 50 years know every inch of that store, and when it closes forever tomorrow, many longtime Bay Area residents will lose the equivalent of a private club," Steger wrote.
 
 
 
The store had been a mainstay in Union Square. Many of the archive photos show extensive Christmas displays inside the store and designer-specific displays featuring the latest in high-fashion to window shoppers. The women's bathroom even became an attraction.
 
 
 
But in November 1994, Macy's, which had bought the now-struggling I. Magnin in 1988, announced it would close the store and started a liquidation sale.
 
 
 
"Everything was 20 percent off the ticket price," The Chronicle's Dan Levy reported on Nov. 26, 1994. "The result was a near stampede."
 
 
 
By January 1995, the sales were over. Caen and Steger penned obituaries for I. Magnin, and for San Francisco's retail heyday.
 
 
 
I. Magnin "wasn't a store to drop in wearing jeans and a T-shirt" Steger wrote in 1995, but it was "worth the trouble."
 
 
 
"A gift from I. Magnin had panache," she wrote. "It was where you went to buy a special birthday present or a gift for a child, whenever only the best would do."
 
 
 
Deanne Fitzmaurice / The Chronicle
 
 
 
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From the Archive is a weekly column by Bill Van Niekerken, the library director of The Chronicle, exploring the depths of the newspaper's archive. It's part of Chronicle Vault, a twice-weekly newsletter highlighting more than 150 years of San Francisco stories. It is edited by Taylor Kate Brown, The Chronicle's newsletter editor. Sign up for the newsletter here, and follow Chronicle Vault on Instagram. Contact Bill at bvanniekerken@sfchronicle.com and Taylor at taylor.brown@sfchronicle.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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