As was heavily reported a month or two back, Milwaukee classic Goldmann's Department Store will be closing its doors in October, The independent department store has operated since 1896; in recent decades it has lost noticable business to big box stores and department store chains. Its owners, both in their late 70s, have chosen to retire and wish to close the store while it remains a profitable venture.
The store's interior has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s, and even then it wasn't massively altered. The exterior was given a Modernist facade in the 1950s, including a handsome clock and a fabulous neon sign.
I was passing by this weekend, and stopped in for a lengthy look around. Normally department stores are loathe to have people roaming about with cameras -- but I wasn't the only one at Goldmann's. I explored every inch of the place -- basement, first floor, a mezzanine, and second floor -- and found it packed with oddities, relics, and delightfully mismatched odds and ends.
Even with the 1950s interior renovations, the place retains much evidence of its Victorian origins. Exposed steel beams, an old staircase and modestly elaborate railing, and a prevalence of wood construction speak of a building much older than its facade.
The building's plumbing and HVAC systems are a mishmash of haphazard accumulations, added piecemeal over the decades. Some of the pipes in the mezannine area are actually at forehead height -- a condition that would never pass muster with today's building codes. Cooling is provided by massive free-standing air conditioners the size of refrigerators, dating from the 1960s. Heat comes from radiators scattered randomly about, some right in the middle of the sales floor.
It is these systems that more than anything doom the interior space as a whole -- they'll never pass code today. The building will surely be gutted by its new owner for renovations.
That sales floor is home to a vast array of merchandise -- clothing in a huge array of sizes, suits in a rainbow of colors. The men's department is presided over by a tailor in his 70s who has worked in the store for decades and has known it since childhood. Alterations and pressing are done in-house.
Cash registers throughout the building are vintage analogue machines, the kind that disappeared several decades ago from most other businesses:
Long-dated "modernizing" touches are scattered here and there. They give the strong impression of being installed in the mid-1960s, when the New Formalism movement was at its peak -- particularly these faux concrete thin shell arches, complete with hanging globe lamps:
The diamond backgrounds for the Men's Wear sign create a similar effect of intended Modern elegance, though they could also date from the Googie excesses of a decade earlier.
At the other end of the first floor, the lunch counter is a slice of 1950s diner streamline, against a backdrop of Victorian decorative touches. Three walk-in counters with curving ends offer seating to diners perched on fixed, round, green-cushioned stools.
(Victorian? Yes -- note the floral column capitals:
When it comes time for fixtures to be sold off, I'm sure someone will pay a hefty price for the slick daily specials sign and its integrated clock:
On the mezzanine level, in addition to a wide selection of lamps and shades, the store contains its own mini-museum of photographs, old newspaper ads, and antiquated calculting equipment:
Of particular interest is a photo of the building prior to its modernization:
(Personally, I find it more interesting with its current facade!)
The store's Going Out of Business sale has begun. In the basement, a corner has already begun accumulating empty clothing racks, and spaces in the 2nd floor are emptying out as well. The time to go see this amazing retail time capsule is now -- it won't be the same for much longer, and very soon it will be gone forever.