[Editor’s note: hear part two of this story here.]
Foley’s started life in the 1900s. By 1940 it had outgrown its location at Main and Congress and was ready for a brand-new one. This would make it the first department store built from the ground up after the war.
“They decided to build a full block store here at the corner of Main and Lamar, designed by Kenneth Franzheim who was a really well-known Houston architect. And it really was the store of the future.”
Jim Parsons from Preservation Houston would agree. Architecturally, it’s not the most attractive ten-story building, but it has its charm.
“One of the big things you notice when you look at it from the outside is it’s this monolith with no windows. The Main Street façade of the store is covered in orange limestone from Minnesota. They call it Kasota Stone. This just gives the whole building this sort of warm rich color.”
The building was air-conditioned from the beginning, and windows would just make that idea less energy efficient. However, there was also no heating.
“So your body heat from the shoppers actually heats the store, which it still does.”
But there are some windows on the ground floor.
“When you walk into the main Main Street entrance, there’s this sort of marble and glass expanse in between the doors. Originally that was what they call the vista window. It was a 105 foot sort of semicircular display window, and that’s where Foley’s would put their big window displays.”
This is where the big advertising would happen as well as ads like these from 30 years ago. And it’s also where they would get really creative to draw the downtown crowds.
“In 1950, they had a window display about the city of the future. So they built the skyline of Houston as they envisioned it in the year 2000. So it had all these elevated roads and trains and all these futuristic looking airplanes going around. It was a really big deal, and in 1965 they had an Italian festival. They built a scale model of the Trevi Fountain, and it was beautiful.”
The next part of the series, we’ll take a look inside the about-to-disappear Foley’s. We’ll look at its innovations, like a conveyer belt that would transport your packages to your car.
A 1960s rendering of the downtown Houston skyline from the University of Houston Digital Library