Monday, November 3, 2014

Shopping Around the Common: slide show and lecture


On Sunday November 9th I will be giving a slide show and lecture  at the Worcester Public Library.  This is a talk I am giving for Preservation Worcester ( a group I care deeply about to preserve the beautiful architecture of Worcester). The presentation will be focused around the grand days of shopping in Downtown Worcester, and the various stores that became etched in our memories. 


Sunday, November 9th, 2:30 pm


 Saxe Room, Worcester Public Library.

  Free and open to the public



Shopping Around the Common:
Main and Front Streets

                                                                       Chris Sawyer, Author
                                                Denholm's: The Story of Worcester's
                                                      Premier Department Store

Friday, September 5, 2014

The debate regarding the new mural

There is a lot of talk regarding the new mural on the side of the Denholm building.  Some people love it, while others are not so thrilled with the final painting.  I personally am keeping my opinion to myself as I do not want to get caught up in all of the debate surrounding this.  Below is an article written by Janice Harvey for Worcester Magazine.
Yes, the Denholm building does not look as pristine as it once did now that it is converted to office spaces, but it is still a historic building in the downtown area. I am planning to be able to devote more of my time to beautify it and present a better street-scape and update some of the interiors.  Hopefully the building will be able to gain the respect and prominence that it once held in the downtown area again.

Brush Strokes  Written by Janice Harvey  ·  08/28/2014  ·  5:00 am

When former City Manager Mike O’Brien announced to the Worcester City Council plans to facilitate the installation of a large-scale mural on the blank wall of the Denholm building, he stressed the purpose of such a task. In a letter dated August 20, 2013, O’Brien stated that such an undertaking should be “complementary to the character and history of both the Downtown and the City as a whole.”
So much for the best-laid plans of city managers, mice and men.
The Denholm building is an iconic structure near and dear to life-long residents of Worcester. Its glory days invoke for many remembrances of a simpler time, when “Downtown” was a destination spot, when Main Street’s businesses, some established before the automobile ruled the road, still enjoyed healthy foot traffic. Denholm’s was Main Street’s sparkling gem, literally, during the holiday season, when families jumped into the station wagon and cruised downtown to view the Christmas lights that graced store windows.
For me, Denholm’s was a place that deserved my best behavior. When I climbed down from the #30 bus on a Saturday, I wore my best shoes, a dress normally saved for Sunday Mass and white gloves on my hands. At the intersection of Main and Franklin, my police officer father directed traffic wearing his own white gloves, spinning on his heels and waving his arms like a conductor facing the orchestra pit. While much has changed since then, the Denholm building still stands. Though it is no longer a department store, it serves the community well as a multi-use property. It remains a familiar anchor for many, and as such, deserves to be treated with respect.
We all have our own ideas about what constitutes “art”; there are those among us who consider anything remotely abstract to be “junk,” whose taste runs this side of Norman Rockwell. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m no art critic, but I’ve done my share of mural work. I’m what I call a decent “rip-off artist” - that is, I can copy anything well enough to get paid for it. I’ve never attempted work on a grand scale, and I commend those who try. That said, the mural that now covers the Chatham Street wall of the Denholm building is all wrong. The only part artist Caleb Neelon got right regarding O‘Brien’s letter is the “character” part. It’s a cartoon.
The mural would fit right in on a playground or a schoolyard, but it has no place on our beloved Denholm building. It makes no connection to the city’s history, and when I described it as an “epic fail” on Facebook, there was no shortage of opinions posted. Local journalist Brian Goslow was his usual diplomatic self, choosing to comment not on the art itself, rather its impact on the area residents:
“To the young children of Worcester who walk its cold, dirty streets, finally something is here that speaks to them, inspired by them.”
Sorry, Brian, but this mural is not viewed exclusively by children walking to school. If that’s the target audience, paint this on a schoolyard wall. This mural is silly and amateurish.
Said Edward Moynihan, after likening the subject to a plastic Kooshball: “The Kooshball is not constricted by gender or age or ethnicity or race…it excludes nobody…it resembles nobody. It is inclusive without hitting you over the head with a mallet.”
I disagree, Ed. Why must a city as diverse as Worcester be homogenized in paint?
From Florida, retired Worcester cop Tom Belezarian had this to say: “It’s part of Worcester history…It’s the same as the White House is to Washington. Would you paint it red or yellow and feel the same? I doubt it.”
I’m inclined to agree, Tom, and not because you were my old man’s partner.
Local artist Howard B. Johnson Jr. got into the kerfluffle – which some thought was a good name for the character depicted on the wall – and he didn’t mince words. “It always has been those with no worldly knowledge aesthetics and professionalism botching up the making of important decisions here.”
Howard’s proposed artwork was vetoed.
Former Womag cartoonist Doug Chapel chimed in with this: “This mural says a lot about how the mural committee people ignored the local talent pool for no good reason …whitewash this and start over.”
Actually, Doug said a whole lot more about being ostracized, and cast off as a rabble rouser, but you get the picture – no pun intended.
Here’s what I think should have been painted on the side of the good ship Denholm: its famous logo. The Denholm bag, with its elegant gold and white stripes and flowing, bold black script, was as recognizable to Worcesterites as the City Hall clock, the Union Station towers, and the neon wiener of Coney Island. Whether it’s art, a monstrosity or an eye sore, one thing’s for certain: the Kooshball sure caused a kerfluffle.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New Mural on the Denholm Building

Article and picture courtesy of Worcester Magazine

Cambridge artist picked to paint mural on Denholm Building in Worcester

Worcester's Public Art Working Group (PAWG) has tapped Massachusetts native Caleb Neelon, who was recently featured in Worcester Magazine's "Two Minutes With" feature, to paint a large-scale mural on the historic Denholm Building downtown. Neelon is expected to start Aug. 4.
The large-scale mural will be put on the Chatham Street side of the Denholm Building at 484 Main St. Two other murals are being planned for next summer, according to a press release from the Worcester Cultural Coalition (WCC) Thursday, July 31.
"Great cities deserve great art," Cultural Development Director Erin Williams says. "[The city] encourages and promotes the enrichment of the cultural landscape of the city through aesthetic improvements of public spaces, uniting artists and community and inspiring civic pride. This project is an important first step in that endeavor."
According to the WCC, Neelon has works throughout the state, in major American cities and in 25 countries. His projects have been done in such places as Turkey and Spain, the press release states.
"I'll be able to have an ongoing relationship with the work," Neelon says of the relatively close proximity of the project to his home in Cambridge.
The four-story Denholm mural will be among the largest Neelon has ever painted, with the artist saying, "Walls [like the Denholm's] have so much character and are exciting to paint."
Public participation is being sought for the project, which is sponsored by the city and PAWG. Funding is coming from Converse Inc. and the Worcester Rotary Club, with additional support from Consigli Construction, the WCC, the city, Economy Paint Supply and the Trustees of the Denholm Building. Anyone interested in assisting with the project from Aug. 4-15 is asked to contact Che Anderson at AndersonC@worcestermagov.
According to the WCC, a community celebration is being planned for when the mural is finished. Local youth will also be taking part in a project to complement the mural.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some more recent Denholms finds

I was so lucky to run across these old hand painted signs from Emil Grilli (see earlier post about Emil's work back-to-school-in-1964). These came from a Worcester Antique shop who's owners are related to Mr. Grilli.  I was able to acquire around 40 different signs from the store.  The original's shown below would have then been copied and placed throughout the store, or the appropriate department.  These were the days when all store signage was produced in house by hand.
 Below are a few highlights of my favorite images. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer window display July 1954

Here is a window display from July 1954 to highlight ladies swimsuits. Notice the build out of the swimming pool and the diving mannequin.  The brands highlighted are Jenzten, Catalina, and Flexees (popular brands of the era). These were all sold in the Beach Shop located on the third floor. I love the styling of these swimsuits, with the rouched bodice and sweatheart neckline.

 I hope you are all enjoying our well deserved summer!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

This window is a 1957 display for Mothers Day. This display revolves around popular gift items found throughout the Lingerie department on the second floor.  Chiffon peignoir sets, house coats, silk underpinnings, and stockings were what most mothers wanted to receive on their special day. Notice the large oversized book made into a shelving display holding various perfumes (Shalimar, White Shoulders, Lily of the Valley) worn during the 1950's

To all of the mothers who have done so much for us over the years, I hope that you all have an amazing day!  We wouldn't be here with you.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Recent Denholm and McKay aquisitions

I am always on the hunt for items relating to the Denholm and McKay Company.  Here are a few items that I have purchased or received as gifts within the past 6 months.  I am really building up the collection and I thank all of you who have reached out to me with items that you have found.  A reminder, please do not throw any Denholms memorabilia away!  I will save it and hopefully one day be able to showcase my collection for all of you to see.
Denholms tie from my dear friend Pat

An early 1881 almanac from the store
Backside of almanac

Early 1900's silver polish envelope

a book of poems to read during afternoon tea
Pricing ticket from my friend Kathy
Advertising flyer
Denholms box from my dear friend Pat

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

I just wanted to wish everyone the very best for the Easter Holiday.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Easter shopping 1965

"Spring comes to Denholms first" reads the copy in this window display from 1965.  The display revolved around navy suits and coordinating hats, but the real focus was on the shoe assortment by "Foot Flairs"(which was a vendor sold in the women's shoe salon on the first floor).  I love the hand-painted image of the tree on plexiglass, and the scatter gravel used on the floor, and of course, the vintage mannequins. 
 Today virtually no one buys a new outfit or shoes to celebrate the Easter holiday, but back in the day, Easter would come second to Christmas for apparel sales.  
One more week till spring, and enough time to do your Easter shopping!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Worcester's first escalators

   Fifty years ago Denholms installed the first set of escalators in the city of Worcester.  Denholms was late on installing these and had plans to do so in the 1940's. With World War II going on, and plans for a facade change, the new mode of transportation would be put on hold until the 1960's.
Second floor

   In 1963 harry Wolf (President of Denholms) met with the Otis escalator company and came up with a plan to retrofit the 1880's building with two separate sets of escalators.  The plans called for a narrow glass enclosed escalator with hand screened baroque detailing on the side panels.  These escalators were custom designed for Denholms and are the only ones in existence in the United States to this day.  By the early 1960's, customers were still relying on the 8 banks of elevators of numerous staircases to access the upper floors.  The new escalators (or "Escal-Aires" as they were known for their light and airy design) would allow for up to 5,000 shoppers to reach floors 1-5 in an average of two and a half minutes.  The sixth floor and basement still required elevator or stairs to access.
Eric Hallback Display Director with Denholms shoppers

  As many people have commented, these were their first ride on an escalator and memories of gliding through the upper floors were memorable to this day.

  The escalators are still in use at the Denholm building and I encourage people to go in and have a ride.  It is one of the last things remaining of the glory days of shopping downtown.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reminder for Denholms presentation at the Worcester Historical Museum

Denholms: Worcester's Premier Department Store

History / Heritage - Lecture/Discussion
Thursday, January 16, 2014
7:00 PM-8:00 PM
Fletcher Auditorium
6:30 PM - Museum doors open
7:00 PM - Lecture

By 1961,things were looking brighter for Denholm & McKay Company Denholms was a full-service store and wanted to keep shoppers in the building as long as they could, wrote Christopher Sawyer and Patricia Wolf in their 2011 history.

Join Sawyer, Denholms historian and collector of Denholms memorabilia, as he shares stories and images of the stores expansion to High Street, the introduction of the Escal-Aires, reorganized and expanded departments, and retail as theater. Join him as we relive the 1960s glory days of Denholmsand the other great stores which populated an exciting downtown.

While Denholms was the leader of the Worcester downtown area and the grande dame of Main Street there were many stores featuring the latest in fashion and housewares. Bring your downtown shopping memories to share and any pictures for the Museum to be scanned and added into the collection (originals will be returned to you.
Cost: Free with museum admission
Public Woo Card: Swipe for Woo Points
College Woo Card: Swipe for Woo Points
Suggested Audiences: Elders, Adult, College, High School
Phone: 508-753-8278