The next time you may find yourself standing in an aisle at the WalMart SuperCenter at Blue Ridge Center, stop for a moment and imagine standing in that same spot when the Blue Ridge Mall – one of the Kansas City’s region’s first suburban shopping malls, if not the first – opened in 1958.
Mention of the Blue Ridge Mall today is usually followed with a sigh. To me, Blue Ridge Mall is synonymous with Orange Julius. And, as a youngster I always slowed down when passing by sparkly things in Harzfeld’s swank fashion boutique windows.
Harzfeld’s opened in the new open-air Blue Ridge Mall 50 years ago this year, but its history dates to 1891 in Kansas City. Hundreds of women attended the opening of Ferdinand Siegel’s Parisian’s Cloak House in February 1891. It’s hard to imagine the store was profusely decorated with flowers and plants in the heart of winter. Each lady visitor was presented that day with a bouquet souvenir. Siegel, a member of the big Chicago department store Siegel & Cooper, sold the business to his manager, Siegmund Harzfeld, two years later.
The store had become the largest of its kind in the U.S. west of New York within 15 years. In 1906, a $40,000 remodeling was undertaken. The Parisian’s five-story building with 31,250 square feet of floor space at 1008-1010 Main St. in Kansas City offered cloaks, wraps, furs and other outer garments for feminine adornment. Initially slated as a $25,000 project, Harzfeld wanted to attempt “something individual and distinctive.”
In December 1913, the Harzfeld Parisian Cloak Company opened on Petticoat Lane (a two-block strip of 11th Street between Main and Grand) into a specially built, 11-story building of cream-colored terra cotta at the corner of 11th and Main.
“My ambition,” said Harzfeld, “has been to make Kansas City so much the best place to dress that it will no longer be necessary for the best dressed women in Kansas City to buy their clothing anywhere but in their own town. No longer need the high prices of New York and Chicago, plus the expenditure of railroad fares back and forth, cut into the dress allowance of Kansas City women.”
Joe and Michele Boeckholt, who have been researching Harzfeld’s for a number of years, say that in succeeding years Harzfeld’s eventually expanded into an adjoining building extending from Main to Walnut Street. The main building at Petticoat Lane has been preserved and was reconfigured in 1986 as part of the Town Pavilion office tower complex.
On April 10, 1954, Harzfeld’s opened its first branch in Kansas City on the Country Club Plaza. Four years later, it opened at Blue Ridge Mall, followed by a fourth shop at Corinth Square in 1963 and then Metcalf South shopping mall in 1967.
The Siegel family remained involved in the store’s operations. Ferdinand Siegel’s son, Lester Siegel, Sr., succeeded Siegmund Harzfeld as head of Harzfeld’s. Lester Siegel Jr. succeeded his father in February 1966, the store’s 75th anniversary. Allied Stores Corp. acquired the store chain in 1982, then closed Harzfelds’ in 1984.
Page 2 of 2 - Ladies – patrons of the bygone, prestigious, specialty fashion and accessory store – may have personal stories, and Harzfeld’s couture in their wardrobes, yet to share. Did you know Joan Crawford (Lucille Fay LeSueur, who also used the name Billie Cassin) worked as an elevator operator at Kansas City’s Harzfeld’s?
Gentlemen, too, may have stories relating to Harzfeld’s. Independence talent Robert Leroy Smith started out at Harzfeld’s art department. He later became a marionette theater owner, manufacturer, and teacher into marionette building, playwriting, and performance. Upon returning to the area in his later life, he became affiliated with the Puppetry Arts Institute.
For more details about Harzfeld’s history, including its impact on women’s fashions and the ready-to-wear industry, visit the Boeckholt’s website (http://www.digdesign.com/harzfelds/index.html ).