Lost: An Incredible Emporium
The second Wanamaker's at 770 Broadway, NYC; The view here is from Astor Place near the Cooper Union Foundation Building. Museum of the City of New York, Wikipedia
If I get another e-mail reminding me of the price of butter or gasoline in 1938, I might do violence to my computer. Certain things are unworthy of sentimental recall; change is the nature of being alive. The fact that everything costs more now than in our parents' day is neither remarkable nor subject to reversion. Thus reminding ourselves of it is just non-productive.
Other things, like the atmosphere on a hot summer day in the city neighborhood where I grew up, or the blacked-out nights of World War II, or what department stores used to be like seem worth recalling for what we might be able to learn, even after half a century after they're no longer around. The past has lessons and pleasures to offer us.
It probably means more to me because it was only two blocks away from where we lived. The store occupied two full city blocks between lower Broadway and Fourth Avenue from Ninth to Tenth Street. The Tenth Street block comprised a ground floor centered by a five-story rotunda that had curving staircases to the second floor anchored by a large pipe organ. That was the venue for all sorts of entertainment, but especially music, on offer to anyone who could be there to enjoy it. In the Depression, such free events were welcome, I'm sure, for many with no other access to diversion.
Our school was only a mile or so away, and we gave regular annual concerts ranged on those stairs at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. Since it was a Quaker school, we were decked out in appropriate costumes: gray rayon dresses with white caps and fichus for the girls, black suits with knee breeches and broad white Eton collars topped by pilgrim hats for the boys. There were almost daily noon-time recitals, carol singing by church choirs as well as our school choir before Christmas, and other performances to regale customers year round.
Nowadays we see gorgeous decorations for the holidays that must cost a fortune, but none exceed the fragrant fresh wreaths and greens and miles of velvet ribbon, acres of poinsettias, and a Santa with attendant elves that Wanamaker's displayed every year.
The ground floor around this space had jewelry, cosmetics, gloves and scarves, women's shoes, men's wear, hats, and the book store. Elevators were run by uniformed operators who recited the goods available on each floor. Furs and children's clothing and shoes, dresses and lingerie, shirts and ties and underwear; in short, anything one could need or want was available.
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