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Finding Aid to the I. Magnin & Co. Records, 1893-1998 (bulk 1930-1994), SFH 2
SFH 2  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Related Materials
  • Materials Transferred
  • Processing Information note
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: I. Magnin & Co. records,
    Date (inclusive): 1893-1998
    Date (bulk): 1930-1994,
    Collection Identifier: SFH 2
    Creator: I. Magnin & Co.
    Physical Description: 46 boxes, 14 unboxed portfolios (75.83 cubic feet)
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: Photographs, videos, printed materials, papers, and a small amount of audio and film documenting the San Francisco-based department store, from its early days as a local shop through its expansion into a regional and then a national chain via mergers with Bullock's, Federated Department Stores, and Macy's. Includes extensive files on individual I. Magnin stores, designers, advertising and publicity, and events, as well as a small amount of Magnin family papers.
    Physical location: The collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.
    Material Specific Details note: Some audiovisual materials in this collection are in older formats that require special equipment in order to use. Special viewing hours and conditions for these items may apply.


    The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Collections that are stored offsite should be requested 48 hours in advance.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has been assigned to the San Francisco Public Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items and the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], I. Magnin & Co. Records (SFH 2), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


    Donated to San Francisco Public Library by Daniel Kasper, CFO, in January, 1995. Additional gift of two gift boxes and 2 shopping bags donated by David Hooper in 2014.

    Related Materials

    Researchers are encouraged to see also the San Francisco History Center's Subject and Biographical Files and to check the catalog holdings of the San Francisco Public Library for related materials.

    Materials Transferred

    Photographs and slides have been transferred to the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

    Processing Information note

    During processing, most of the collection was re-foldered and re-housed in acid-free folders and boxes. Some metal staples remain. Documents on acidic paper were kept in their original state and separated with acid-free paper.
    Some portfolios remain intact in order to maintain provenance. Many items within the scrapbooks may have become loose and might be in a brittle, fragile condition. Other collection items that have been identified as requiring conservation have been noted with blue flags. Please handle these items and the scrapbooks with extra care.

    Biographical/Historical note

    The story of I. Magnin department store, with its ascension from a simple notion store of modest investment to a multi-million dollar Pacific coast store chain, as well as its financial decline in its last decades, signifies one of the great romances of the retail trade world.
    Established in 1876 by Mary Magnin, I. Magnin became a corporation in 1900, and incorporated under the same name in 1919. The I. Magnin operation consisted of a chain of stores, located mostly on the West Coast, that initially dealt in clothing and accessories for women and children. In its latter decades, merchandise included men's apparel. I. Magnin & Company was renowned for its exclusive selection of clothing and merchandise, its delivery of haute couture to the West, and the lavish attention paid to the design of its stores.
    In 1876, Mary Magnin opened her first shop in San Francisco - a one-room store on Fifth Street. Two years later, I. Magnin moved to Third Street between Mission and Howard Streets. By 1884, the expanded business required larger quarters. A new location was established beneath the Westchester Hotel, between Mission and Market Streets. In 1886, a branch store opened on Market Street below Stockton Avenue. By 1894, the business had outgrown its size. In 1900, plans for larger quarters were made for a six-story building at Post and Grant Streets, and construction began. Fire from the 1906 earthquake destroyed the never-used new building, and temporary quarters were established at the Magnin home at Mason and Haight Streets, and later in a large packing room at Van Ness Avenue and Bush Street. In 1909, the new downtown store at Grant and Geary Streets was completed.
    The success of I. Magnin is attributable to the scrupulous direction of Mary Magnin. A mother of seven children, she trained her four sons in all aspects of the family business. The eldest and the youngest boys, E. John and Grover, were groomed as managers. Samuel was assigned to bookkeeping, and Joseph was relegated to deliveries. The three daughters were excluded from the family business.
    E. John Magnin, began managing the store in 1888. In 1904, his first European buying trip established the tradition of I. Magnin's European connection. In 1905, he opened an office in New York City, so as to maintain direct contact with East Coast and European designers, and remained there until his death in 1944.
    Having apprenticed with his mother and brother for two years, Grover Magnin assumed the role of managing the business in San Francisco in 1905. In 1912, he established the first exclusive branch shop within the Potter Hotel of Santa Barbara, followed by additional shops within other southern California hotels – Hotel del Coronado (1914), Ambassador Hotel (1921), and the Biltmore Hotel (1927). The Pasadena (1913), Hollywood (1913), and Seattle (1925) stores were also established during this period. Oakland's store opened in 1931. In 1939, the Los Angeles shops were consolidated into one store on Wilshire Boulevard. In 1951, Grover Magnin stepped out of the Magnin business at the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five.
    From the period of 1943 to 1967, West Coast stores proliferated. Stores were either established or expanded, in Beverly Hills (1943), Santa Barbara (1947), Pasadena (1949), Sacramento (1953), Seattle (1954), La Jolla (1954), Fresno (1955), Palo Alto (1956), Santa Ana (1958), Carmel (1960), San Fernando Valley (1962), and Portland (1962). In 1963, I. Magnin opened a store in Phoenix, Arizona.
    I. Magnin was acquired by Bullock's, Inc. in 1944 and became part of Federated Department Stores, Inc. through the Bullock's merger in 1964. Under Federated, nine stores were added and a number of older shops extensively remodeled and enlarged. Besides seven Western locations - Santa Clara (1964), San Mateo (1965), Torrance (1967), Walnut Creek (1967), Palm Springs (1967), Cupertino (1976), Costa Mesa (1977) - the new stores included branches in Chicago (1971) and White Flint, Washington D.C. (1978). Two more stores were established in Chicago: Northbrook (1979) and Oakbrook (1981).
    In 1987, I. Magnin's business was only marginally profitable, according to retail industry sources. By 1988, Federated, the nation's third largest retail chain, was acquired by Campeau, a Canadian-based developer in a $6.6 billion agreement. I. Magnin and Bullock's Wilshire were sold to R.H. Macy & Company. As a result, it was projected that the whole structure of retailing would change; stores would no longer be regional entities, but national ones.
    More West Coast stores opened in Woodland Hills (date unknown), and San Diego (1992). In January 1992, R.H. Macy filed for Chapter 11, bankruptcy protection from creditors. In 1992, Macy's began closing I. Magnin Stores. The closings were part of Macy's strategy to focus on I. Magnin's more profitable stores: San Diego, Phoenix, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco. In July 1994, Macy's announced its agreement to merge with Federated Department Stores. It was decided that the continued operation of a high-end specialty store chain would not be profitable to the merger. Four I. Magnin stores were converted to Macy's or Bullock's formats. Federated retained the I. Magnin name in continuance of its mail order catalog business. All other I. Magnin operations were discontinued in January 1995.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection documents the existence of I. Magnin and Company during the years of 1876 to1998. It affords the researcher insight into the workings of an exclusive, century-old, multi-million dollar retail-clothing store on both regional and national levels. Materials include correspondence, print materials, newspaper clippings, photographs, slides, videos, film, and ephemera. Although information about Magnin family members and administrative activities is scant, the strength of the collection lies in its documentation of individual stores via photographs, correspondence, and internal memos. Photographic documentation of the following stores is notably extensive: San Francisco, Los Angeles (Wilshire), Beverly Hills, La Jolla. There are no paper documents for the San Fernando Valley (Sherman Oaks) store.
    The I. Magnin Closing folders in Series 1 were collected by Virginia Ferrand, Director of Advertising and Publicity (197-). The Macy’s Bankruptcy folders include advertising expense analyses, newspaper clippings, and internal memos. They were kept together to maintain provenance, as they demonstrate some of the steps taken by I. Magnin, particularly within the advertising department, in order to restructure its debts. Series 6 Advertising/Publicity is rich in content. It includes documentation of advertising from the turn-of-the-nineteenth century until 1994, with particular interest found in the oversized ads of the early 1900s and portfolios compiled during the 1930s and 1950s. Although Series 7 Designers/Events is an extension of advertising, it was separated for organizational purposes.
    Of special note are the newspaper and newsletters in Series 1 and 2, created by I. Magnin staff during the latter part of the 1920s and during World War II. The newsletters, written in serial form, include I. Magnin history, the "Honor Role," I. Magnin employees who served in the war effort, personal notes, marriage and birth announcements, monthly pin-ups, photos, and cartoons.


    The collection is arranged in eight series: Series 1: Family and Company History; Series 2: Administration; Series 3: Finances; Series 4: Family Documents; Series 5: Stores; Series 6: Advertising and Publicity; Series 7: Designers and Events; and Series 8: Ephemera and Realia.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    I. Magnin & Co. -- Archives
    Magnin Family -- Archives
    Department stores--California--History
    Fashion design--History
    Fashion merchandising