Dayton's Department Store, 411 Cedar Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota
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Dayton's Department Store (now Macy's)
|Address:||411 Cedar Street|
|Neighborhood/s:||Downtown, Saint Paul, Minnesota|
|Saint Paul, Minnesota|
|Ramsey County, Minnesota|
|Historic Function:||Department store|
|Current Function:||Department store|
|Architect or source of design:||Victor Gruen|
|Material of Exterior Wall Covering:||Brick|
An inwardly focused department store designed by Victor Gruen and built to counter the trend toward suburbanization. Windows? Not many. Brilliant use of brick and stone to create texture and mural drama? Yes.
Minneapolis-based Dayton's was among the nation's leading department stores for nearly a century. Founded in 1902 by George Draper Dayton, Dayton stores quickly became synonymous with quality merchandise, superior service, fashion leadership, and community involvement. In 1969, the Detroit-based J.L. Hudson Company merged with the Dayton Corporation to form the Dayton-Hudson Corporation, adding 21 Michigan-based stores to the total. In 1990, the department store division of Dayton-Hudson (now Target Corporation) acquired Chicago-based Marshall Field's. Both Dayton's and Hudson's retained their individual store names until 2001 when they were united under the Marshall Field's namplate. Prior to changing its name to Marshall Field's, Dayton's stores numbered 19, serving communities throughout the Midwest. The building now houses Macy's Department Store.
George Draper Dayton's father, a physician in New York state, could not afford to send him to college, in part because the doctor freely gave his services to the poor. Hence Dayton set off on his own in 1873 at age 16 to work in a coal and lumberyard. A workaholic, he undermined his health and a year later had to return to the family home to recuperate. Undeterred, he went on to become a banker. Less than ten years later, in 1883, he was rich enough to buy the Bank of Worthington in Minnesota. Meanwhile he had married and had become active in the Presbyterian Church. Dayton's connection with the Presbyterian Church proved to be instrumental to the rise of his Dayton Company. In 1893, the year of a recession that sent local real estate prices tumbling, the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis burned down. The insurance did not cover the cost of a new building, and the only other source of income, a corner lot next to the demolished church, was unsalable because the real estate market was doing poorly. The congregation prevailed on the Dayton family, who were faithful members of the church, to purchase it so the building of a new church could proceed. Dayton bought it and eventually erected a six-story building on the lot. Casting about for tenants, he decided to buy the nearby Goodfellow Dry Goods store and set it up in the new building. In the spring of 1902 the store was known as the Goodfellow Dry Goods store; in 1903 the corporate name was changed to Dayton Dry Goods Company, then seven years later simply Dayton Company, the forerunner of Dayton Hudson Corporation and, ultimately, Target Corporation. Eventually the store would expand to fill the six-story edifice. Dayton,with no previous experience in the retail trade, wielded tight control of the company until his death in 1938. His principles of thrift and sobriety enabled the company to grow. As long as he was at the helm, the store was run as a family enterprise. Every Christmas Eve he would hand out candy to each employee of the store. Obsessed with punctuality, he was known to lock the doors at the onset of a meeting, forcing latecomers to wait and apologize to him in person afterwards. The store was run on strict Presbyterian guidelines: no liquor was sold, the store was closed on Sunday, no business travel or advertising was permitted on the Sabbath, and Dayton Company refused to advertise in a newspaper that sponsored liquor ads. This approach did not stifle business; Dayton Company became extremely successful. A multimillion-dollar business by the 1920s, Dayton Company decided it was ready to expand, purchasing J.B. Hudson & Son, a Minneapolis-based jeweler, in 1929, just two months before the historic stock market crash. Dayton Company managed to weather the Great Depression, although its jewelry company operated in the red for its duration. Dayton's son David had died in 1923 at age 43, and George turned more and more of the company business over to another son, Nelson. George Draper Dayton died in 1938. He left only a modest personal fortune, having given away millions of dollars to charity. In 1918 the Dayton Foundation had been established with $1 million.