When I was in college in the mid-1990s, I shopped at I. Magnin on Union Square. I didn’t buy much – mostly makeup – but I had as good a time as anybody at this bay area institution. I was really thin then, so I could try on the Armani and Chanel and look good in it. More fun than anything, however, was the beautiful bones of the store.
The sleek marble facade and remaining post-deco interiors from 1948 gave the place an air of sophistication that a brand-new build – no matter how opulent – just couldn’t match. The downstairs “main hall” had several gorgeous painted glass murals by artist Max Ingrand and bronze balustrades reminiscent of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner. In fact, the main floor reminded me an awful lot of the Queen Elizabeth‘s interiors, barely a decade older.
When Macy’s – I. Magnin’s parent company – closed the store in 1994, I was gutted. I managed to happen upon the fixture sale in early 1995 and purchased the only remaining piece of I. Magnin I could afford or logically use – a large white flag with the I. Magnin logo (which I still have).
Years later, I found a beautiful 1940s vintage lace dress with I. Magnin labels and promptly fell on it. It got me thinking about the store and how much I missed it. Nowadays, everything from the original I. Magnin building, designed by Timothy Pflueger, has been overrun by the Macy’s next door and its boutique lessees downstairs. Well, almost everything. I did discover that one original 1948 interior space remains – a women’s bathroom.
Just go to the Macy’s sixth floor and follow the signs to the women’s restroom. Push through the fluorescent “new” room and you’ll discover a glimmering grotto of gold leaf, bronze, crystal, and marble. While the gold-leafed ceiling was blistering a bit the day I was there, Macy’s has committed to continued maintenance of the historic room. In the past, they’ve replaced two of the damaged white marble sinks with suitable vintage pieces and restored the mirrored water closet doors with antique stock.
With all that mirror, it’s a perfect spot for epic selfies! In fact, the I. Magnin bathroom was in the finals for a best bathroom contest back in 2009. Sadly, it came in only sixth out of ten.
More about vintage I. Magnin:
- Reel SF: Portrait in Black – Old shots of I. Magnin Union Square
- I. Magnin at The Department Store Museum
- I. Magnin photos and discussion at Flikr