Thursday, May 19, 2016

Himelhoch Brothers Department Store Hanky

In a West Branch, MI antique mall I found this hand painted rayon handkerchief in it's original box, including the paper lace doily that covered it.

The handkerchief is made of rayon, mimicking silk. The edge is not bound, but has a frayed edge. It has a lovely Columbine flower, delicately hand painted.

The box read Himelhoch Brs & Co, Detroit. I needed to know more.

Being a 'recent' transplant to the Detroit area (1963 when I was ten years old) I am not familiar with much of its history. When I was a teen my friends liked to window shop at Jacobson's in Birmingham. Mom liked Federal's in Clawson. But before the suburban shopping centers, people went downtown to shop.

And Himelhoch Brothers and Company was one of the big downtown Detroit department stores.

Michigan Jewish History has a full article on the Himelhoch family and business. You can read it at

In the article Marilyn Shapiro writes that in 1907 the Himelhoch family moved its Caro, MI store to downtown Detroit. (Caro was in the heart of the lumbering area.) The automobile executive wives money attracted New York stores like Saks to locate in the city. With funding from Marshall Fields the Himelhochs built a . store near Hudson's Department Store and B. Speigel on Woodward Ave.

The next decade was a time of huge growth. The store was moved to another Woodward Ave location, to a building being remodeled by renowned architect Albert Kahn. An article found in Goggle Books here details the luxurious new store:
Will Rebuild Store-Garment Retailing Concern to Have Handsome Eight Story Structure
A handsome eight story building of reinforced concrete fireproof construction is to be erected on the site now occupied by the store of Himelhoch Bros 8 Co retailers of women's outer garments, Detroit, Mich and will be used in its entirety by that concern.
The new building is to be completed before the close of the present year. The exterior walls to the height of the third story will be faced and trimmed with marble. The walls above will be of ivory white terra cotta trimmed with cream glazed terra cotta. The cornice marquee and window casings will be of copper. The vestibule will be deep thus increasing the extent of the display windows. The interior finish on the first and second floors will be in Circassian walnut, on the third fourth and fifth floors in mahogany, and on the other floors and in the basement in fumed quartered oak. The equipment will include two electric passenger elevators enclosed in polished wire glass and an electric freight elevator. The offices will be located on a balcony over a part of the main floor. Sanitary locker rooms and rest rooms will be provided for the employees and there will be a handsome rest room for customers. A vacuum cleaning system will also be installed. The firm have been in their present location five years and now find a serious need for the additional space which will be provided by the new building.  
The high end store included furs and a bridal department and the novelty of rest rooms for customers.

With the growth of the suburbs the family built stores in Grosse Point, Birmingham, and Northland (once one of the world's largest shopping mall whose last store closed in 2015, It has been torn down.) Fewer people went downtown to shop. The flagship store downsized. The suburban stores did not carry high end goods, but focused on sure sellers. Himelhoch closed in 1979, hurt by the rise of the suburbs, the race riots, and flight from the city.

The business had a life cycle of fifty years. The demise of Detroit killed it.

Learn about the Detroit department stores at HOUR magazine here. 

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