Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The last of the Big Three Gets Smaller

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On Friday it was announced that the downsizing of Macy's Downtown St. Louis store that has been planned for over a year will finally start this week. Its hard to imagine today that Downtown St. Louis once supported three mammoth department stores: Famous Barr, Stix Baer & Fuller and Scruggs Vandervoort Barney, each boasting over half a million square feet of sales floor. Now the sole survivor will shrink from seven floors to three, shrinking from about 675,000 square feet to about 200,000.

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The vacation of the sixth floor will mean the end the last traditional department store tea room in St. Louis, which occupied a large portion of the floor. The St. Louis Room was the place where your grandmother and her friends went to eat while out for a day of shopping and this was evident from the decor. The room today is almost devoid of decoration or character except for a few hints of Art Deco. Some travertine left exposed a few spots as well as the sweeping arc shape of the space make me wonder if it had some more of this flavor at one time?

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Beyond the staid main dining room was a smaller room that was clearly meant as the domain for the men who worked in the surrounding business district. The space is heavy on Olde English Tudor decoration complete with half timbered rough plaster walls, a bar and a large fireplace in one corner.

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While the St. Louis Room had long ago lost its luster along with most of the store above the first floor, until a few years ago it was full for lunch almost every day of the week. After Macy's closed the Midwest division and slashed almost a thousand workers from the former May Company headquarters offices on the floors above the store however it became a ghost town. The last time I ate there late last fall after false rumors of imminent closure, my friend and I were among maybe a dozen other people in the entire restaurant.

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The St. Louis Room nearly empty on a weekday around 12:30.

Papa Fabarre's, the more popular and much smaller restaurant on the 2nd floor is also closing, apparently because it does not have a separate kitchen. Fabarre's had an interior that felt like you were transformed to a time of nearly a century ago, when the Railway Exchange Building was built. I don't believe the interior was was that old, but someone did a fairly decent job of pulling off the look. Check out some photos of Fabarre's at St. Louis City Talk. I always liked the antique belt driven ceiling fans, and of course the Famous French onion soup.

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Another feature of the store that will face an uncertain future are the beautiful old escalators.

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From the third through fifth floor, the escalators were a streamlined combination polished stainless steel and aluminum.

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From five up, the escalators switched to stained wood.

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Going down

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The sweeping curved lines of movement between floors were featured on the panels separating the up and down escalators.

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Details are everything. A bronze insert holds the corner where the escalator meets the adjacent ceiling.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post - I work next to Macy's and I LOVE those escalators - sometimes I go ride up and down them to clear my head. They will be missed.

Anonymous said...

What a shame that we are loosing so much of an icon! But knew it was only a matter of time before Macy's started the slow demise of this store. Even with assurances from Macy's when they took over I had grave concerns about the status of the store... No more Famous French Onion Soup or the
John White Burger... a great memory from my past being lost...

Keith said...

Late to this post; yeah, I was one of those kids who were taken to the St. Louis Room on numerous occasions by my mother and grandmother on our excursions to downtown. Unfortunately, kids will not be able to experience the elegance that that store provided, and I really don't think there's much around anymore that can duplicate that. I'm with the commenter above: So happy you got some pictures of those wooden escalators...I loved those things!

Anonymous said...

I stii remember the original wooden escalators that had a Brass plate at either end that stated:" Otis Escalator patent pending". They filled in those around the mid 70s. They got to the point where it took 6 months to custom-machine replacement parts.

Anonymous said...

About 10 years ago I waited with a Famous employee while some workers disassembled a bed I was purchasing; the clerk related to me some of the history of the downtown Famous. She said that during the WWII effort, the Famous store had their state-of-the-art air conditioners sent to factories, to cool the workers assembling war machinery. True? Probably. That was the age of everyone pitching in for the sake of the country!

Jim McMullan said...

I remember wooden escalators at one time. They started out flat and eventually rose into steps. Does anyone else remember that?

Laura said...

A trip through the salad bar in the St. Louis Room was like a trip to HEAVEN. Every ingredient imaginable, gourmet sausage and cheeses, homemade dressings. That alone was well worth a trip downtown.