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Revealing the Future: The Story of Raleigh’s G&S Department Store Building

For more than a decade Empire Properties has been a leader in the revitalization of Downtown Raleigh. The company’s redevelopment  and historic preservation efforts have brought back to life many of downtown’s long neglected historic commercial structures.

Most notable among these are the Masonic Temple Building (1907), the Raleigh Times Building (1906), the Raleigh Furniture Building (1914), the East Hargett Street Odd Fellows Building (ca 1881), the Carolina Trust Building (1902) and the former Heilig-Levine Furniture Building (aka Central Hotel, ca 1870).

The Heilig-Levine Building as seen from the G&S Department Store through 19th century window glass.

Empire’s latest venture in historic preservation/adaptive use is the current rehab of the former G&S Department Store on S. Wilmington Street.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

State Archives of North Carolina photo

The first block of E. Hargett St. as it appeared in 1946. The main entrance to the G&S Department Store is on the left.

The G&S Department Store building, like many of Raleigh’s downtown commercial structures, has had a long and evolutionary history.

Actually, the department store building, located at 206-210 S. Wilmington St. and 16 East Hargett St., comprises four separate 2-story brick structures. Although long-since consolidated into a single structure, the earliest two of the four appear on Shaffer’s 1881 Raleigh property map; these are at addresses 16 E. Hargett and 208 S. Wilmington.

The Sanborn insurance maps indicate that by 1896 210 S. Wilmington had been built, and that by 1909 206 had been erected. Thus the complex of four, two-story brick buildings was assembled.

The four contiguous buildings that comprise the G&S Department Store are seen in the 1914 property map above. (Image courtesy Sanborn Insurance Co.) Below is the recently revealed facade of the Hargett St. main entrance.

During these early years (1881-1909) the buildings were occupied variously by groceries, dry goods, a restaurant, a liquor store, a barbershop or two, and several clothing stores.

Also during this time an emerging Jewish mercantile class was growing to prominence within Raleigh’s business community. Familiar names included Kline, Lazarus, Seligson, Goodman, Horwitz, Neiman and Ellisberg. The associated businesses were primarily drygoods, jewelers and clothiers. Among these early entrepreneurs was Jacob Kline.

The bustling business district in the 200 block of S. Wilmington St. ca. 1903. (Photo courtesy State Archives of North Carolina)

In 1909 Kline opened a men’s clothing store he called the “Klondike Store,” at 210 S. Wilmington St. His new business was next door to Ike Seligson’s “New York Bargain House,” also a clothiers, which had opened in 1899.

By 1913 Kline had formed a partnership with Goodman Lazarus, and the two businessmen opened Kline and Lazarus Co., purveyors of “clothing, dry goods, shoes, men’s furnishings, and ladies ready-to-wear” — or in other words, a department store. The new enterprise consolidated all three S. Wilmington St. buildings (nos. 206-210).

Curiously, the main entrance to Kline and Lazarus was as at 16 E. Hargett. Apparently, to reinforce the image of a unified block on Wilmington St., the three individual two-story red brick storefronts were painted a buff yellow at some point*. A metal cornice (since removed) stretched above the second floor of all three. The Kline and Lazarus department store flourished on Wilmington and Hargett Streets for the next 17 years.

The welcoming mosaic at the main entrance to the Kline and Lazarus Department Store, 16 E. Hargett St., remains in place to this day. (Photo by John Morris)

In 1932 Louis Greenspon and Morris Satisky acquired the former Kline and Lazarus building and opened the G&S Department Store. Again, the main entrance was listed in city directories as 16 E. Hargett, while 206-210 S. Wilmington continued to be designated as the “side entrance.” G&S became a familiar downtown Raleigh landmark for the next 25 years.

This is how the Hargett Street showroom of the G&S Department Store appeared in 1948. A dining room of the Brass Grill Restaurant occupied this space for many years. (Photo courtesy State Archives of North Carolina)

However, as larger, “modern-style” department stores such as Hudson-Belk, Taylors, Charles, Boylan-Pearce and Effirds began to dominate Fayetteville St. in the 1930s and 1940s, smaller, old-time, “back-street” businesses such as G&S were being edged out.

In 1952, G&S was being run by the second generation of the original founders. It was probably around this time that the blank, gray metal front, which has recently been removed, was erected to cover the painted yellow buff brick façade*. But sadly, in 1956, the department store closed.

In 1958 the storefront at 16 E. Hargett was rented out to a small millinery shop, and the S. Wilmington buildings were occupied by a sewing machine distributor and the Capitol Loan Co., “dealers in furniture, used goods and confidential loans.”

The Hargett St. building was similarly covered up. Presumably, the purpose of such architectural appendages was to make the aging buildings look more “modern.”

Exposing the facade of G&S last fall.* (Photo courtesy The Raleigh Connoisseur, by Leo Suarez) Below is the view a few nights ago.

Through the decade of 1960s many of downtown’s aging commercial buildings were covered in boring metal or concrete false fronts in an effort to make them look more “modern.” It was a futile attempt to appeal to downtown shoppers, as suburban shopping centers such as Cameron Village and North Hills were growing in popularity at the time.

Many downtown 19th century commercial buildings were covered up in the 1960s. These are across Wilmington St. from G&S.

Among the structures so-masked were the Raleigh Times and the Carolina Trust buildings, the Ambassador Theater, and the Masonic Temple building (thankfully the street floor only).

Now, in the 21st century, urban preservationists and sensitive developers are looking beyond the false fronts and seeing the remnants of Raleigh’s early architectural history which lie hidden behind them; such is the case with the current rehab of the G&S Department Store. Many thanks to Empire Properties for taking the lead!

As a personal footnote, your correspondent was privy recently to a behind the scenes look at the renovation in progress of the G&S Department Store building. Here are a few images of what I saw. I hope to return this summer after the work is complete and provide an update on the project for our readers. (Special thanks to Ben Steel and Empire Properties)

Reno in progress! And revealing the future.

These cabinets were installed as dressing rooms for patrons to try on the latest haute couture.

Reno work underway on the second floor.

A peek into the second floor of the Hargett St. wing.

Hundreds of discarded coat hangers in the basement.

*Interestingly, when the 50 year old metal cladding on G&S first began to come down, the exposed surface first appeared to me as buff-yellow brick.  Not until after I began photographing the building did I realize the color was not brick at all — it was paint.

Beneath the yellow paint is red brick. My guess is that this paint is the only coat, as there appear to be no underlying layers. So, perhaps the yellow paint was applied as the surface treatment by G&S  in 1932. And perhaps if its historic authenticity can be confirmed, Empire Properties will consider restoring this feature of the building, as well.


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