- Historic Sites
November/December 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 6
Department Store 110-YEAR-OLD GLAMOUR
The opening of a major downtown department store has always been a public event, but when the setting is a historic architectural treasure, and the location is San Francisco’s Union Square, there really is something to celebrate. On September 28, 2006, San Francisco’s new and expanded Westfield Centre flung open its doors after more than 10 years of planning, building, and public anticipation. The anchor stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom share 1.5 million square feet of retail space with dozens of gourmet dining spots, boutiques, and a multiplex movie theater. But what sets this complex apart from the others is the fact that it incorporates the Beaux-Arts facade, grand rotunda, and soaring 200-foot glass dome from the old Emporium, which was once one of the city’s most popular department stores. Inevitable comparisons to the 2003 reopening of the city’s other Beaux-Arts treasure, the Ferry Building, are being made in hopes that this center will be a similar success in bringing the crowds downtown.
The original Emporium opened on May 25, 1896, catering to middle-class San Franciscans who couldn’t afford the fancier stores like City of Paris or I. Magnin. The facade and a partially damaged dome were all that survived of the Emporium from the 1906 earthquake and fires, but the store was rebuilt to its former glory. It closed for good in 1996 and after much controversy was spared demolition but sat unused for many years. Having been restored to circa 1908 magnificence, the “new” Emporium is bringing some much-needed glamour back into the San Francisco shopping experience. —Amy Weaver DorningRetro Car The TOUGH CAR OR THE FUN CAR?
Retro cars are all the thing in Detroit—and no surprise. With sales slumping, why shouldn’t the Big Three want to look back to the good old days? But history and retro are words not applied to the models that channel past star cars. Heritage is the fashionable substitute.
The best recent retro efforts are Dodge’s Challenger and Chevrolet’s Camaro , both unveiled in January and set for production in 2008. The Challenger is almost a replica, slavishly loyal to the original muscle car. But the Camaro is something very different. It suggests a sculpture of the original. “Milled from a single billet of metal” is a phrase often heard in Detroit, today referring to the look produced by computer-driven machines robotically translating drawings into three dimensions.
Such translation is akin to other modes of history making, like stories of battles or biographies. Designers, like storytellers, must focus on one aspect of a car to revive. In the case of the Camaro, the choice was between the muscle car side of its legacy and the less intense pony-car side—the tough car or the fun car. It was a choice of memories, made in a competition between studios ordered up by the General Motors design chief Ed Welburn. The winning look came from Studio X, headed by Tom Peters, who designed the most recent Corvette.
The result pleased the buffs, because it is everything they liked about the original—and more. It is a rolling rendition of their memory cars. The swelling bulge in the grille, the muscular fenders, the side vent all suggest V-8 power and rubber-burning rear-wheel torque. The head and taillights on the original car were circular. On the new one, they are semicircular and seem to wear a hooded, intent expression—older and, if not wiser, at least not so wide-eyed innocent. But set beside an original, like most retro cars, the new one seems oh so serious. Lost is a sweetness of line, a confident, unselfconscious grace—and the exuberant, ignorant energy of youth. Gone in fact are all the things most missed about the original era. — Phil Patton