Downtown's other lost department store

R.H. Stearns in downtown Boston

Filene's, Jordan Marsh, Gilchrist's, even Woolworth, all names from downtown's past now. But don't forget R.H. Stearn's, at Tremont and Temple Place, which once rivaled Filene's and Jordan Marsh as a regional retailing company.

Its flagship ten-story building, finished in 1909, still stands at Tremont Street and Temple Place. Even the original metal awnings are still there - although somebody, for some reason, removed the "R.H." from them sometime after the store closed in 1978.

The building, now home to apartments for the elderly and disabled and a couple of small shops, still retains its original outside detailing, including stone faces peering down at you from near the roof:

Here's looking at you, kid

To the stars!

Ad astra per aspera

The architects at Parker, Thomas & Rice loved their fish:

Fish

At the time, Boston architects also loved them some allusions to Babylonian mythology:

Babylonian details

The store was founded by Richard H. Stearns in 1847. After World War II, the store opened outlets in newfangled suburban shopping malls - and in downtown Wellesley (in a building that later became a Filene's before that, too, shut).

Leslie Jones captured the scene outside the Tremont Street store, possibly in the 1950s:

Leslie Jones photo

Shopping Days in Retro Boston describes the store, which appealed to ladies of a certain age:

Stearns was prim and very proper…no frills and no gimmicks allowed! Stearns maintained a very loyal shopping clientele and they were very much, by the 1960’s, older ladies of the city and local Boston suburbs. Changing times did not change Stearns…well, not until 1975 with a new owner and some very modern ideas. Sadly, even with all this new identity and five modern branches by 1970, the store folded by 1978. Boston lost its “grand” store…the last really old style Boston store left…and with it died the vision of the “little old lady from Beacon Hill” image.

The Department Store Museum lists which departments were on which floors.

You can see the ghosts of its old markings from Washington Street:

Faded Stearns sign

Leslie Jones photo posted under this Creative Commons license.

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Comments

Offices?

Adam - Are you sure about the office part of this building? Besides the retail on the ground floor, the upstairs is subsidized, elderly housing. The building is owned by a company based in Long Beach CA called the Retirement Housing Foundation.

Great views at low prices! Location, location, location. Except you don't really have to pay too much for it.

http://www.rhf.org/rhfcms/CommunityView.aspx?id=615

It is a great building which was probably not made into a parking lot in the late 70's owing to the ability for the government to underwrite the property as affordable housing.

Other forgotten department stores

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Everyone knows/remembers Jordan's and Filene's, but their were others. Kresge's and Neisner's, both on Washington Street. Believe it or not, Kresge's, on the corner of Washington and Temple, lasted quite a ways into the 80s, although it was pretty downtrodden by the end. Grant's was great also. It was located where the Barnes & Noble was later, and which is now empty. Like Woolworth's, all of these places used to have lunch counters. There was something uniquely urban Americana about having a hot dog, hamburger or grilled cheese in one of these [places in the 60s and 70s. And don't forget the lime rickey.

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I noticed the iron work still

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I noticed the iron work still on the front of the building not long ago. I mentioned it to people I was with at the time I remember going with Mom shopping at that store. Mom loved RH Stearns. That's before Downtown Crossing when that area was a true shopping mecca. Between Filenes, Jordan Marsh, Kennedys and all the other stores in that area, you really didn't have to go anywhere else. Then to end the day at Bailey's. Good memories that reminds me how lucky we were compared to that area now.

Not many tourists either

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something else I remember from those days of the 60s and 70s is, Freedom Trail notwithstanding, there were not really all that many tourists around. Certainly not to the degree that we see hordes of tourists today. Aside from an upsurge in bicentennial 1976, the area was relatively tourist free. Of course he tourist mecca that is today's Faneuil Hall did not yet exist in it's present incarnation.

My mom loved it too.

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Gone before my time but she spoke of it very fondly--I associate it with camel's hair coats and Shetland sweaters.

I used to work there

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The store in Braintree that is, in the 60's- It was my first full time job

And let's not forget Frank Stearns...

...a.k.a. "Lord Lingerie" who was one of fellow Amherst alumnus Calvin Coolidge's confidantes & advisors during the Boston Police Strike & after. He was also instrumental in the V.P. boom for Coolidge during the 1920 Republican Convention. Stearns was commonly described by contemporaries as "fussy". Just speculating, but that, along with his nickname, sounds to me like a polite way of saying "effeminate"-- sort of Boston's own Franklin Pangborn, a character actor who epitomized "fussy". Here's a short Pangborn clip (with Babe Ruth!):
http://youtu.be/hulxx190Pv0

If memory serves me correctly

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If memory serves me correctly, wasn't there also a Stearns in the North Shore Mall up until some time in the 70s?

A few of the others from the

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A few of the others from the glory days of downtown, R. H. White’s, Raymond’s ( Uncle Eph) and Crawford Hollidge.
Raymond's was located where TJMax and Marshalls are today. After R.H. White's closed Raymond's decided to replace their old store and moved into the old R.H. White's building while the old building was replaced. When the property was completed Raymond's was having financial problems and Woolworth's took over the new building.
Crawford Hollidge was a hands on family business, right across the street from RH Stearns. In 1967 the Crawford Hollidge was destroyed by fire. I remember it being a very cold February day and the building was solid ice when the fire was out. Crawford Hollidge reopened on the first block of Boylston Street, but closed within a few years.
Service was a lot different in the 40'& 50's. Customers were greeted at the door by name and bills were put on your account. Finally a credit card was introduced, the same card could be used at most of the stores.

R.H. White's

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R.H. White's was another Downtown Crossing department store, although I remember it more in its later years. After the flagship closed, a suburban R.H. White's hung on for decades in Worcester's Lincoln Plaza shopping center.

Gilchrist's

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Another lovely big anchor that succumbed to the rough 70s