PaperCity Magazine

December 2018- Houston

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 96 of 123

This department store appealed to the wealthy and those interested in a cossetted retail experience that usually lasted all day. Sakowitz was designed in the Art Moderne style with wide, open spaces and much of the merchandise behind niches and counters, to be proffered at the customer's request. The client was the star who moved across the retail theater with calm confidence, timeless elegance, and glamour. A day at Sakowitz — often the province of mothers and daughters — was an experience to be savored and recalled years later, topped off by a noontime respite at the fifth-floor Sky Terrace, a 28,000-square- foot dining retreat. The Dorothy Draper-esque Gulf Coast Colonial decor included life-sized plaster trees by San Antonio master Dionicio Rodriguez, who was acclaimed for his faux bois work in Texas and beyond. Tearoom fare was served amidst an al fresco-inspired portico alongside midday style shows. The day might end with an appointment at the beauty salon for the latest coiffure. U krainian immigrants Tobias and Simon Sakowitz founded their emporium in Galveston in 1902; the entrepreneurial brothers added a Houston location nine years later, establishing a store for men and boys at Main and Preston. In 1929, ladies' apparel arrived at their next location, the main floor of the Gulf Building (a Deco-era skyscraper at Main and Rusk developed by Houston kingmaker Jesse Jones). The Sakowitz brand weathered the Depression, then flourished in the post-war boom. In 1951, the retailer erected a 254,000-square-foot temple to luxury shopping at 1111 Main Street — a confident response to the more middle-American Foley's across the street, which had opened in 1947. The seven-story, reportedly $8 million, marble-clad Sakowitz Bros. flagship was designed by Alfred C. Finn, Jesse Jones' go- to architect; Finn designed the Gulf Building, as well as the San Jacinto Memorial, the world's tallest war memorial — a project also propelled forward by Jones. Houston-headquartered Brochsteins, which is still going strong today, was tapped for the interiors, which were lavish in their use of sculptural space, including wall niches for coveted articles of clothing, millinery, and handbags. Hand-painted murals enlivened departments ranging from the candy counter to the layette shop that offered tony baby gifts. An Italian hand-carved marble fountain sculpted by Butini reigned over the Sky Terrace restaurant. On each floor, exquisite millwork set the stage. A brochure from the era details floor-by-floor the handsome, often rare, American and exotic hardwoods employed throughout to achieve an effect of sumptuousness: avodire from the French Ivory Coast of Africa, Japanese and Korean Tamo, and, closer to home, Wisconsin birch and pecky cypress from Louisiana. Per the brochure, "moving fixtures from Brochsteins' plant required a total of 177 van and truck loads" to bring forth the completed Sakowitz with its 122 private fitting rooms, 2,322 lineal feet of imported marble on the first floor, and 8,073 square feet of polished and antique mirrors. The democratic temple of Sakowitz represented a time when shopping was both empowerment and escape for women — getting out of the house, meeting other like-minded ladies, brandishing financial power, forsaking prosaic daily drudgery for the siren call of civilized beauty and fashion, creating community. Employment at Sakowitz represented a respectable and highly enviable career for a woman as well. Famous clerks included such fondly remembered personages as Miss Josephine, who held court in the store's iconic millinery department and made hat buying a ritual edged with grace and importance. As a working career woman, I'm in no hurry to return to the stifling Mad Men era when department stores reached their apex, but I wish Sakowitz at 1111 Main Street — that great behemoth to mid-century dreams, design, and architecture — continued to flourish today. The building still stands, but sadly is a parking garage now. These photographs, sourced from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Houston Public Library's Julia Ideson Building and Brochsteins' archive, document what Sakowitz Bros. downtown was like in its halcyon heyday. For more images of the iconic Sakowitz Bros., go to Millinery Department Architect Alfred C. Finn designed Sakowitz's Art Moderne luxury department store. Brochsteins was tapped to create the lavish interiors. Beauty Salon Dressing rooms provided a sense of theater. The Sky Terrace designed in a Gulf Coast Colonial style 87

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of PaperCity Magazine - December 2018- Houston