We left Union Square and entered City of Paris (1850-1976) on Stockton Street. I was awestruck at the sight of a forty-foot Christmas tree (first erected in 1909 to celebrate the store’s survival of the earthquake three years previous). Actual bicycles, skis, sleds and other gifts decorated the monstrous fir, which rose to the stained glass dome. I squinted upwards and spied the outline of an old sailing ship within the ornate skylight. Dad explained that the vessel was the City of Paris and had arrived during the Gold Rush days laden with French wine and Cognac and frilly things for the ladies.
We strolled down an aisle named Normandy Lane. A make-believe village soon engulfed us. A well-groomed gentleman, wearing a white carnation in his lapel, stood behind a bar, which resembled a red lacquered bed. We soon arrived at a red, white and blue kiosk displaying children’s books and French magazines.
City of Paris:
Across the avenue, there was a watch repair shop as well as a counter to buy rare stamps. Mom lingered at an exotic cigarette booth before being nudged along by Dad who requested she take me to the bakery stand for a warm cinnamon roll. He soon ambled away without us. Mom’s explanation for his departure was a smack of her lips followed by a nod toward the lingerie section where he would receive a glass of champagne and pretend to be interested in acquiring some nylons for her. She confessed that during the Big War this was the place to come to have your legs “painted” as nylons were unavailable in the forties. The store would close in 1976 and reopen as Neiman Marcus a few years later. The glass dome was preserved and if you look closely, you can see the motto for the old sailing ship, which read Fluctuat nec Mergitur: “It floats but never sinks”. So true!