The American Department Store Transformed, 1920-1960


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Richard Longstreth

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After attaining classic stature with palaces erected in the early 20th century, the American department store continued to evolve in ways that were influenced by changes in business practices, shopping patterns, design approaches, and urban structure. This masterful and innovative history of a celebrated building type focuses on many of the nation’s greatest retail companies—Marshall Fields, Lord and Taylor, Gimbel’s, Wanamaker’s, and Bullock’s, among others—and the role they played in defining America’s cities.

Author Richard Longstreth traces the development and evolution of department stores from local, urban institutions to suburban entities in the nation’s sixty largest cities, showing how the stores underwent changes to adapt to dramatic economic and urban developments, including the decentralization from metropolitan areas, increased popularity of the automobile, and challenges from retail competitors on a national level. Extensively illustrated, this fascinating book offers a fundamental understanding of the transformation of Main Streets nationwide.

Published in association with the Center for American Places

Richard Longstreth is professor of American civilization and director of the graduate program in historic preservation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“Superb! . . . I simply cannot contain my respect and enthusiasm for the achievement that this book represents. A great metropolitan institution has found the historian it deserves.”—Robert Fishman,

University of Michigan

“Original, exhaustively researched, and a very substantial contribution. There is no directly comparable work; this will become the authoritative source on department stores in this period.”—Michael Holleran,

University of Texas at Austin, author of Boston's "Changeful Times": Origins of Preservation and Planning in America

“Through a wonderful blend of design, business, and urban history, Richard Longstreth superbly demonstrates that the retail landscape in twentieth-century America has been a constantly shifting one. Anyone who has ever been dazzled by a department store will likewise be enticed by this book.”--Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

“A work of prodigious scholarship that is clearly written and profusely illustrated, Richard Longstreth's new book, The American Department Store Transformed, 1920-1960, is a monumental achievement, a major contribution not only to the history of retailing in the United States, but also to the history of the built environment in the twentieth century.”—Robert M. Fogelson, MIT, author of Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950  


“No one knows more about the retail landscape of America than Richard Longstreth, and this is his most important contribution to date. The American Department Store Transformed gives us a sweeping panorama of some of the most important developments in 20th-century city centers and outlying districts. Longstreth deftly combines architectural history, business history, and urban history to create a compelling story and a work of reference that will be the basis for scholarly exploration for many years to come.”--Robert Bruegmann, author of Sprawl: A Compact History


"The department store encompassed much that was exciting and much that was unsettling in 20th-century America. Only Richard Longstreth has the broad vision, deep knowledge, and love of his subject to give this central institution its due. The American Department Store Transformed confirms Longstreth’s standing as our premier interpreter of the twentieth-century commercial city.''--Dell Upton, author of Architecture in the United States

'His book is an important contribution to the histories of building types, and incidentally, a useful antidote to some of the more waffly aspects of current academic forays into material culture.' — Christopher Woodward, Building Design

"Retail managers and shop-till-you-droppers alike will revel in Longstreth's ode to the American department store."—P. G. Kishel, CHOICE

"Through blindly crisp photographs, dreamy ads, and architectural renderings that could sell a world's fair, the hefty tome makes the medicine of understanding traffic control, merchandising, and city planning go down as deliciously as a fruit tart from the tea room."—Chris Nichols, Los Angeles Magazine - The Chic Leak Blog

". . . an essential source for understanding the department store and the regional mall in the twentieth century. . . . exhaustive research allows readers to have complete confidence in Longstreth's findings and to be persuaded that he has, more than any other scholar, captured the vast and complex landscape of department store growth in twentieth-century America."—William Littmann, Buildings & Landscapes

“The depth and range of research alone makes The American Department Store Transformed an essential source for understanding the department store and the regional mall in the twentieth century.” — Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
ISBN: 9780300149388
Publication Date: June 22, 2010
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Center for American Places
352 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
243 b/w + 15 color illus.
The Mall in Washington, 1791-1991

Edited by Richard Longstreth; With a new introduction by Th

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