Friday, October 30, 2009

Capwell's El Cerrito Plaza Grand Opening 1958

July 9, 1958 marked the grand opening of both Capwell's department store and adjoining El Cerrito Plaza. This advertisement from the Oakland Tribune invites the public to come shop the largest store in Contra Costa County.

The 2-level store cost $6,000,000 and was 232,000 square feet of spacious aisles and modernistic fixtures ("5,000 Flock to See New Capwell Store", 1958). The exterior of the store was equally modern with its blue and brown tile. At the time, Capwell's El Cerrito was the fourth store in the chain, with other locations in Oakland (downtown), Walnut Creek (Broadway Plaza), and Hayward (downtown).

Capwell's El Cerrito lasted until 1996 when the chain was acquired by Macy's and ultimately closed. El Cerrito Plaza fell in to disrepair until it was de-malled and revitalized in 2002.


5,000 Flock to See New Capwell Store. (1958, June 10, 1958). Oakland Tribune, p. E-15.


Rob said...

Since I grew up near EC, let me share some trivia about this store:

I didn't realize that it was the largest store in CoCo County, but I can tell you that it sat only a few hundred feet from the Alameda county line.

The EC Capwells was also an identical twin to both the Stevens Creek Emporium and the Stanford Emporium, which made for some facinating "disorientation" whenever I visited those stores and then walked outside expecting to see something different.

It was also the only Capwell store to not change its signs after the name change to "Emporium-Capwell" in the early 80's. (Even the historic Downtown Oakland flagship store did so).

One reason for this I heard was the huge rooftop "Capwells" sign. In the 1970's the city of El Cerrito made businesses get rid of tall signs in the interest of decluttering and beautification. But Capwells, being the city's largest tax revenue generator was granted an exemption. However, they were not permitted to alter it in any way. Therefore, none of the signs were changed.

It was only after the "Capwell" was dropped entirely in the 90's that the store was permitted to change the sign to "Emporium". Ironically, Federated bought and closed the store only a couple of years after the sign changed.

AND THEN, the EC Plaza kept the "Emporium" sign lit up even though the store was now closed. Undoubtedly to prevent prople from thinking that the whole mall was closed.

Randy said...

The Emporium-Capwell logo came in 1980, and "Capwell" was dropped in 1989, just a couple of weeks before the quake.

Steven Swain said...

Grand openings used to be such a big deal back then. I miss that.

Hushpuppy212 said...

Having been taken to the Emporium Stanford a lot as a child, I too experienced that same 'fascinating disorientation' when I shopped at Capwell's El Cerrito. Not only was it odd walking out the doors to a different setting, it felt strange to see Capwell's name on signs and price tags, instead of the more familiar Big E.

Jean Has Been Shopping said...

Wow, Scott, how cool to see this Capwell's flyer. My parents used to take me to the Woolworth's at El Cerrito Plaza to visit Santa each year. This brings back such fond memories.

Marcy said...

I grew up in El Cerrito The El Cerrito Plaza was the bomb back then. Every Christmas we went to take a picture with Santa at Capwells. My Grandmother walked there almost everyday for something. She would take me to WoolsWorths and buy lunch when they had the counter and the little stools, there was a fabric store , can't remeber the name and Luckys grocery store, when they had the machine where you could test your t.v. tubes, and my Dad was a big fan of Kirby's resturant we went there from time to time I think because it had a bar, lol. There was a record store too they had booths where you could listen to the record I think before you bought it. My Grandmother had, well my Grandfather had a Capwell's charge card except back then it was a metal plate kinda like a dog tag very small. Back then my GM had an Avon lady, fuller brush guy, t.v. repair man , and I vaguely remember a milkman. I went to Harding Elementary School and then Portola Jr. High. Times sure have changed. Marcy

Eliz May B Griffintwo said...

Wow Marcy.
I can remember most of what u mentioned. I remember the fabric store too. They had a clothing store & a couple of shoe stores too.
I went to stege elementary, portola jr high & elcerrito high school.
I had moved up north in the early 80's.
I moved back to the bay area in 2010.
For sum reason I had a flashback & googled capwells in elcerrito.
Class if 77.
Liz W