A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Wednesday 30 January 2008

A Day Out In Boston In 1968... Part 2

Part 2

The Annex of Jordan Marsh held my full attention as young child.
The Main Store buildings seemed full of clothes and my mother would take what seemed like “hours” to walk around looking and sometimes trying things on.
On one of the shopping trips from this time in my life I can recall the selection of a portable record player for my bedroom. The record players were in the music department on the street floor of the Annex. The Annex had elevators with operators and an escalator towards the rear of the street floor opposite the main door. I think I am correct in remembering the Annex having a mezzanine running along the rear wall of the street floor like Filene’s did and the beauty salon was on it with a few other things. I did not spend much time there as a child but I recall seeing it as we rode the escalators.
Before leaving the street floor we would also visit the book department in the far corner of the street floor in it’s own small room with a door out onto Chauncy or Bedford Street I think.
There was also an elevator on one of the walls as you walked in through the archway from the larger Annex shopping floor.
Soon we would ride up to the upper floors and eventually visit the toy department. I loved that part of the trip! The Annex was really Jordan Marsh’s home store with all things home related.
The toys lived on an upper floor and I think that is where I was taken to see the Enchanted Village at Christmas and also where they had a Spring Circus display as well. I believe it was on the fifth floor and in a function room that acted like a gallery or auditorium for the various events Jordan Marsh hosted over the years.
**As a quick note for those interested in what became of this wonderful place, it was demolished in 1978 to make way for the new shopping center and hotel that now sit where it stood for nearly 80 years.
The Annex played a final vital role for Jordan Marsh in the years around 1975- 1977. While 1890 building along Washington Street was being torn down and replaced , Jordan Marsh was desperate for retail space during the process and the Annex came in very handy indeed. The Annex was packed with all sorts of merchandise and crowded with shoppers until the new Main Store building was opened. Once the new Main Store was in full use, the Annex was closed and sat empty for about a year until it was taken down. Jordan Marsh had less space now without the Annex and it cut back on many household items over time and the 1950 addition became packed with all the old departments once held in the Annex.
I recall this vividly because my mother and many others found the new placement of departments confusing and noted the lack of choices due to lack of space. I can still hear my mother saying to our landlady, another Jordan’s shopper, how much the Annex would be missed and Jordan Marsh was just not the same to shop in.

Back to 1968: We would leave the Annex via the main door onto Avon Street and walk up to Kresge’s on the corner of Temple Place. Kresge’s became rather cheap with lots of funky wigs in the window as the 1970’s wore on but in my childhood it was just like a Woolworth’s with several floors and a large lunch counter full of local workers on their lunch breaks. The store smelled good and had a nice selection of toys to look at on the second floor.
My grandmother was not keen on going beyond this point on Washington Street back then. I know that the Raymond’s Department Store had a new location further down on Washington Street but it was a “no go” zone for her. Not safe for a lady now in her 70's:-)
I think a lot of folks felt that the Combat Zone was creeping up and was now just beyond the Annex of Jordan Marsh.
So stores like the former RH White’s(failed 1957) and then for short time Citymart(early 60’s failed venture) and the new Raymond’s location(not sure how long it lasted here) were just not getting the shoppers they deserved and vanished. By 1968 I can only recall many vacant and decaying buildings as I looked down towards Chinatown.

More thoughts and memories in my next post.
I shall wrap up my 1968 shopping day with lunch and a few shop visits at the other end of Washington Street.
Ps....The images posted today show a more upmarket Kresge's from 1950.
Several images with views down around RH White Company Store with the theatres all around.
One image is of a typical department store in the early 1940's. This photo reminds me of the the feel and look of the street floor Annex building of Jordan Marsh. I would dearly love more shots of the Annex......can you help???
Let me know.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

A Day Out In Boston In 1968... Part 1

My memories of the downtown Boston I knew so well began in the late 1960’s with shopping trips during the week with my mother and my nana. My grandmother, nana, had worked off and on for the Jordan Marsh Company from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. She took such pride in showing her little grandson all round the shops that made the Washington Street shopping area of Boston so famous. It was not called “Downtown Crossing” then!
Her work at Jordan Marsh had been something she loved and always looked back on with fond feelings. She had worked in many of the departments over the years but her favorite was the baby clothing department which for years had been located in the basement of one of the large buildings that made up the vast Jordan Marsh complex.
At this time, my Aunt Mary still worked at one of the perfume counters on the street floor right by the bank of elevators still operated by men or women in the old main building of Jordan Marsh. Part of our shopping ritual always included a visit to Aunt Mary and have a little chat with her.
Now in order to go “in town” as we called the trip, I had to get dressed up. My Sunday best was needed. Mother and nana also put on their best for this ritual shopping experience.
We lived in Brookline and used to take the streetcar in to Kenmore Square where we would meet my nana on the platform since she came in from another part of Brookline via bus. All together we would ride the rest of the way to Park Street Station and emerge beneath the steeple of Park Street Church to begin the shopping trip.
We always went down Winter Street and I can still recall the smell of brewing coffee in the “Choc Full O Nuts” coffee shop. Mother liked to go into Miles. Miles was a book, gift and card shop along Winter Street. The Bell Shops was being torn down in my early memories of these days and the Provident Bank building took it’s place over time.
Conrad and Chandler’s still was busy with women shoppers and the windows always got a look in by mother and nana. We would go in sometimes and I can remember the old wooden floors and the black telephones that were at each counter.
We had to go in to Gilchrist’s and visit the bakery along the Winter Street side. I always had a almond macaroon in a little paper sleeve and they were The Best!!
We would walk through the street floor of Gilchrist’s and leave by the main corner door to cross over to Jordan Marsh.
We would enter Jordan Marsh on the main street floor and visit Aunt Mary if she was at work that day. I can recall the elevators with glass French style doors opening and closing with a globe above the floor display needles that lit up to show the elevator was there. The elevators in all the older parts of the store had operators. The 1950 addition of the store had automatic elevators since it was the newest part at this time. We spent most of our shopping trip in Jordan Marsh.
It was our shop and my nana knew every inch by heart.
I can recall crossing over to the Annex Building in a variety of ways. Sometimes by the sky bridge over Avon Street which connected the 1950 addition to the main Annex Building from about the third floor to the sixth. The under Avon Street tunnel was another neat way to go from Main Basement Store to Annex Basement Store. On nice days we often just crossed Avon Street and went in on the street floor of the Annex.
I loved the Annex. It always smelled good.
I think it must have been roasting nuts or the bakery but it always smelled so warm and comforting.
The Annex seemed to be always very busy. It was also the place in Jordan Marsh that had a street floor with a nice high ceiling and that great feeling of space and that there was lots to see.
The music and record department was on the street floor of the Annex. Music always played and it added nice touch to the visit. The street corner of Avon and Washington Streets held the appliances. I had a thing for vacuum cleaners and loved to see the ones on display. Salesmen always seemed to showing off what the latest model vacuums could do for the eager customers.
We were only half done with our day out! Lots more to do and lunch to be had!

I shall write more about a typical shopping trip in my next post.
All the Best, Charles................
PS........The two photos are sample images from the Bostonian Society and these images link directly back to them. Please visit their site and support them in their fine work!
They have so much to offer!
PPS......The photos show the 1890 Jordan Marsh Main Store building that ran along Washington Street from Summer Street to Avon Street until it was torn down in 1975-6 to make way for the low modern building that sits there today. Thanks to Jan Whitaker for locating this great 1940's advert for Jordan Marsh. Please keep sharing! Write me if you want to place your own memories on this blog:-)

Monday 28 January 2008


Welcome to my blog!
This blog is the result of many years of wondering what to do with all my fond memories of the Boston I knew and loved growing up in. I had just retired from over 20 years of teaching when I found Jan Whitaker’s wonderful site on the history of American department stores. Her site and amazing book along with her dear friendship led me down the path of creating this blog.
Jan recently did a lecture at the Boston Public Library about the Boston department stores of the past and I spent some time gathering my own memories for Jan so that she could get a personal sense of what the Boston stores of yesterday meant to those of us who recalled them vividly.
I have been searching the internet and looking for all the materials I can find to present on this blog and help us take a stroll back in time to the Boston we all loved so much.
Many thanks to Jan for sending me so many super items for this new blog!
Please drop in and visit her at: http://www.departmentstorehistory.net/
I am very aware that not all Boston folk feel nostalgic about the stores of old and are glad to see the end of that classic era in our retail history.
During my research I have read many Boston Globe articles relating to the various stores and the closures of each. Most people who wrote in to the Globe shared a sense of loss and felt that Boston was becoming less distinctive with each store death BUT there were some who thought we were old silly fools to have feelings for those decaying icons to the Boston consumer culture of days gone by.
My mission here is to present my memories and any others that people would like to offer up for the readers. This blog may also be a great place for those who did not know the Boston that they see and read about here and want to ask questions to find out more!
Please write and share! Let’s make this blog a fun place to explore.
Thanks for visiting!