Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Montgomery Ward in Sacramento, 1956

The photos above, taken in 1956, show the large, newly remodeled Montgomery Ward store at the corner of 9th and K streets in Sacramento, California, just prior to its “grand reopening”. Originally opened in 1935 and designed to Ward’s Georgian architectural standard of the day, the Sacramento location was one of the company’s first units to be revamped after the tumultuous leadership change of 1955.

As the Wards publication “1872-1972 A Century of Serving Consumers” points out, in the ten years following World War II, “Not one store had been air conditioned, nor were any relocated from congested downtown sites, where parking problems discouraged shoppers, to the edges of the cities or to the suburbs where shopping centers were sprouting up overnight.” As mentioned in the previous post, it would take some time to begin the rollout of the new suburban Wards stores. In the meantime, it made sense to upgrade the best performers of Wards existing downtown store locations, a group that included the Sacramento unit.

The photos show the exterior and interior signage, including the new white and red "WARDS" upright that would appear on a host of new stores that Wards would open or remodel over the next several years. Note the tight building column centers, so typical of downtown stores built prior to the mid 1950’s. Below is a shot of the store as it appeared in 1947, essentially unchanged in appearance from its opening twelve years earlier.

The photos appear here by the kind courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.


  1. Unbelievable interior photos, what a time capsule! I love the Stairs and Escalators, the A/C vents (both round and square) the hips lights, the amazing merchandise. Thanks for sharing, were in the world do you get these types of photos???

  2. These are some good looking photos, Dave! Love how attractive the store is.

  3. Does anyone know which corner of 9th and K this store was located on? I lived in Sacramento in the '70s, and at that time Weinstock's had two big stores on the K Street Mall: 9th and K and 12th and K. (One began life as Hale's, I believe.) But there was no Wards by then.

  4. AHH, seeing these photos remind me of when I worked for the downtown Oakland Emporium-Capwell store @ 20th & Broadway. Opened as "The Lace House" in 1927 under H.C. Capwell the 5 story building had that same look on the interiors of most downtown retail buildings. Our receiving dock was in a tunnel in the basement and they still had 'manual' freight elevators with a lever to raise them up and down the floors that all of us in receiving had to strategically learn how to bring them to the correct floor level! The roof level had beautiful views of the downtown skyline from its sun-deck and a huge lunchroom with a canteen that fixed hot food and sandwiches for all employees. As you noted for the Wards building, the building did NOT have air-conditioning and even after having to remodel the building after being damaged after the 1989 7.1 earthquake, they did not add a central a/c system! We had huge 30" upright fans around the store to cool (and blow merchandise & dust around) the building. I guess they thought it didnt get that hot in Oakland!!?!?! The building was actually moved 16" off its foundation during the earthquake and a lot of merchandise was damaged by dust or water from fire sprinklers tripping off during the shaking. Today the first 2 floors of this historic building are open as a SEARS store.

  5. Tim - I agree, it's definitely a time capsule, and thanks! Many of the photos, like these in particular, come from library collections where commercial photographers' heirs have donated their archives.

    Didi - I agree, it's a nice one!

    Anonymous - This was, and is, on the southwest corner. It's still there, looking great, from an exterior standpoint at least! I'm not sure when it ceased to be a Wards.

    Mr. Bluelight - Thanks for those great memories from the Emporium-Capwell days! I'll bet that many folks who worked in classic downtown department stores had similar experiences, thanks again for sharing yours. And I'm sure Oakland must have its share of hot weather, contrary to the "Northern California is always cool" stereotype.

  6. These photos are amazing!

    I grew up in foggy San Francisco and my parents first took me to Sacramento in August 1967. I remember being fascinated by the warm summer nights (swimming in the motel pool after dark!). We went downtown shopping on K Street and I remember both Weinstock's (yes, the 12th Street store was originally a Hale's), Penney's, Ransohoff's, Roos/Atkins, and Macy's, but not Wards. Hard to believe it would be gone so early, but by then they had opened enough suburban stores maybe they felt that, by 1967, their downtown store was unnecesary.

    I too remember Capwell's in downtown Oakland. Their advertising always said 'The East Bay's Finer Stores', which made me think of all those commercials for ladies wear that used the tag line 'Available at Finer Stores Everywhere'. I just assumed they meant Capwell's.

  7. Hushpuppy - What a great snapshot of the downtown Sacramento retail scene in the late 60's. Thanks for that!

    And I completely relate to the excitement you felt as a kid, getting to swim at a motel after dark. The simple pleasures of those days!

  8. Hushpuppy-

    The Weinstock's at 9th & K street was the original Hale's, as was the Arden Fair branch. The 12th & K store was the original Weinstock-Lubin, which had a branch at Country Club Plaza. Check at the Mall Hall of Fame's articles about the Sacramento malls and the notes about Weinstock's.

  9. I remember this store. My mother worked at Hale's in Sac before she married Dad and before it became Weinstock's. As a frugal 50's family we shopped 'Monkey' Wards both at the store and through the catalog. I was always fascinated by the vacuum tube communications. It was so magical to see that canister appear and disappear with money it in. I don't really remember when it closed but I also don't remember shopping there much past late 50's. By the time JFK was campaigning in Sacramento I'm pretty sure it was gone. What a trip thru old memories. Thanks.

  10. Anonymous, you're very welcome and thank you for commenting. It sure appears to have been a grand old store.

    And those mailing tube systems were fascinating. I've seen photos of them dating back as far as the early 1900's. I believe that the site linked below may have a photo of one -



  11. I grew up in Sac (25th & J St) so downtown was our stomping ground. We didn't have a car so walked or took the bus downtown. Ward's was the first department store in Sacramento with escalators. I was 8, shopping with my mother. When I saw that escalator rising out of nowhere, I knew it was going to eat me and started screaming bloody murder. My mom ignored me and everyone watching, lifted me by my arm and plunked me on a step.
    By the way, Ward's was on the SW corner, across the street from Hale's. The exterior camera angle shown, the photographer is facing south. bjlewisart@gmail.com

  12. BJ – Thanks for sharing that great memory with us - seems that I remember being scared by escalators at a young age as well! I would love to have seen this store in person.

  13. Thanks for posting the photo and for providing where I might get a copy. My father owned the news stand in the picture and looking at it brought back a lot of wonderful memories.