The History of French Department Stores in SF

Did you know that there were French department stores in San Francisco? Here are three stories of French entrepreneurs who founded successful stores in the city.

The City of Paris 

The City of Paris Dry Goods Co. department store was opened by two French brothers Félix and Émile Verdier. They sailed directly to San Francisco from France in 1850 sensing an opportunity to profit from the influx of residents brought by the Gold Rush. The original store was located near Portsmouth Square and in 1896 they opened their flagship store on Union Square which was an up-and-coming shopping neighborhood. Unfortunately the store was destroyed during the devastating earthquake in 1906, but that did not stop the Verdiers from reimaging their storefront. The family hired famous San Francisco architects Arthur Brown Jr. and Arthur Bakewell and French architect Louis Bourgeois to design a new store. Its famous rotunda included a stained glass ceiling that depicted the ship “Ville De Paris” accompanied by the motto of Paris: “Fluctuat nec mergitur”. Additionally, the basement of the store was designed to look like a Parisian marketplace with small storefronts selling homeware, wine, books, and art. The City of Paris was sold in 1972 to Neiman and Marcus who preserved the stained glass ceiling which you can visit today at Stockton and Geary. 

Roos Brothers 

Adolphe Roos was born in Wissenbourg, Alsace and immigrated to San Francisco in 1864. Shortly after, he began working for a clothing merchant on Leidesdorff St. In 1865, Adolphe bought out his employer's shares and transformed the store into Roos Brothers. Their store was so popular that Adolphe and his younger brother Achille decided to move into a larger storefront on the corner of Post and Kearny a year later. Adolphe took care of purchasing and financial operations, while Achille managed sales and advertising. By 1935, Roos Brothers had expanded their business with nine stores throughout California and they were known as the destination for upscale menswear. Roos Brothers eventually merged with Robert Atkins in 1960, another well-known American clothier who continued to operate the firm into the 1990s. 

The White House 

Raphaël Weill, a young man from Phalsbourg in Lorraine, arrived in San Francisco in 1855. Shortly after, he began working for J.W Davidson and Richard Lane at their department store. Three years later at the age of 20, Weill became a partner at the store. In 1870, the department store moved into a larger building and changed its name to The White House taking inspiration from the Parisian store “La Maison de Blanc.” Weill later became the owner of the entire establishment. During the 1906 earthquake and fire, the White House department store burnt down and it was swiftly replaced with a new facade. French architect Albert Pissis designed the new building with Beaux Arts details at Grant and Sutter. The store closed in 1965, but the ground floor now houses a Banana Republic where you can still admire its grand details. 

Visit the Musée d’Histoire de la Francophonie à San Francisco to see authentic advertising materials and clothing items from these three department stores! 

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