Writers Share Their Memories Of Store

August 25, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

The news that the old downtown Stewart's department store has been transformed into the home of Catholic Relief Services occasioned some delightful letters, which need to be given a wider audience. Here goes:

Skip Jones wrote: "I'm an expatriate now living in California. I worked for Stewart's display department in the early sixties. We often worked on the windows late at night after the store closed.

"One night a group of dancers from a show running at Ford's Theater (a playhouse on Fayette Street) walked by and said they enjoyed shopping at Stewart's and that our window's reminded them of the windows on Fifth Avenue in New York. What a great compliment.

"My favorite job was trimming the little display cases in between the two revolving doors. There were two on the Howard Street side and two on the Lexington side. Ties and gloves where often in the window near Clay St. and ladies gloves, stockings and handbags often in the Lexington Street side.

"I was devastated when the deco elevators on the Howard Street side of the building were ripped out. I had become friends with most of the African American ladies who operated the elevators. The good news is that most of them were transitioned into saleperson jobs in various departments.

"This was in contrast to several years prior when I was first hired while still a student at Maryland Institute. An African American friend who was in several of my drawing and painting classes applied with me. He was selected to work as a janitor and I was selected for display. Sad, he was the much, much more talented artist.

"I also watched with great sadness the destruction of the Century and the Valencia movie theaters from the rooftop employee lounge and cafeteria."

Philip Szczepanski of Kingsville writes, "My father was the head of the carpentry department. I have memories of taking the elevators to the top floor, getting off and walking up the flight of stairs to the top floor. You had to walk through the elevator motor room to get the carpentry shop and as a youngster, I was always relieved when we were past those huge motors, moving cables and sparking relays.

"I would go with my father (by bus from Highlandtown) late at night so we could photograph the display windows. The lights would go out in the store windows at midnight and we would ring the night watchman bell (hidden in the doorframe of one of the revolving doors) so he could hand us the big, heavy tripod that my father had made out of wood. The rest we brought on the bus. The watchman would turn on the lights in the windows that we were photographing. After we were done, back went the heavy tripod, the lights went out and we went back on the bus.

"The special time of the year was Christmas. Since my father built the Christmas display (different each year), he knew when the magic morning [when] the public would see it for the first time. Remember, they had curtains, closing any window display from public view whenever they changed any display.

"We would go the night before, open the curtains, photograph the display, rush back on the bus and stay up all night processing the sheet film and making photo Christmas cards. All the envelopes had been previously addressed. When the prints were dry, we stuffed the envelopes. By this time the sun was getting ready to come up and my father would get ready for work. He always walked to work (and back). He would get there early and leave a Christmas card in each office and department, the rest had been dropped into the mail to all our family and friends."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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