By early 1910, Calishers Department Store, advertised in period newspapers as the "Heart of El Paso", had become wildly successful operating out of the first floor of the Mrs. C.N. Buckler Block. The Buckler Block was located at the corner of today's Mesa and Texas streets, the location of a newer Henry Trost building (also called the Buckler Block) that houses the CVS Pharmacy. The El Paso Herald reports that they had $200,000 worth of inventory and fixtures (El Paso Herald, Monday 8/15/1910 pg 3), and over 90 employees by July of that year.
Jacob Calisher began his Dry Goods/Department Store business in 1881, when he arrived as a German immigrant, according to historical consensus. Between 1881 and 1897 Mr. Calisher is rarely mentioned in antiquity, until he was identified as a close friend to Zach White in 1897 (El Paso Daily Herald, 5/24/1897 Front Page). White, of course, was the builder of the Hotel Paso del Norte in later years. In 1898 and 1899, and quite possibly earlier, Calisher owned and operated the California Store, a department store frequently characterized as the "J. Calisher's California Store". In 1899, apparently foreshadowing the future, the California Store burned to the ground, losing $10,000 in stock and fixtures (El Paso Daily Herald, 4/10/1899, Front Page).
After the 1899 fire, the business moved to a location at 208-210 El Paso St., which is approximately across the street from the current Trost Alhambra/Palace Theater, with an additional location at 702 S. Mesa (Directory of the City of El Paso 1900, pg 103). Through the early 1900s the company experienced extraordinary growth, and in 1907 hired staff (including Manager and company Vice President J.U. Northman), incorporated, and moved to the Buckler Block (El Paso Directory, 1907, pg 153).
Calisher's tactic of using extensive newspaper advertising, including listing the prices of items, made their first 3 years at the Buckler location phenominally successful, as stated above. On July 7, 1910 Jacob Calisher announced the formation of the J. Calisher Realty Company, and through this concern purchased the property at the northwest corner of Stanton and Texas. He announced on the same date that he would be building and opening a huge, $100,000 department store at that location. He purchased the property for $125,000 from Felix Martinez and J.G. McNary. Martinez built the Trost designed White House/McCoy Hotel a couple of years later.
Within 48 hours after making this announcement, Calisher confirmed that he hired Henry C. Trost to design his new building. On July 9, 1910, Calisher traveled to Denver, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska with Trost to study existing Department Stores to create a design for the new building. This journey lasted over a week (El Paso Herald, 7/9/1910; El Paso Herald, 7/16/1910).
In the early morning hours of August 14, 1910, a tragic fire engulfed the old Buckler Block, destroying the stock and fixtures of Calishers Department Store. Jacob Calisher lost approximately $200,000 worth of goods and fixtures in the fire, of which he recovered only $110,950 in insurance settlements and approximately $10,000 in salvaged goods (El Paso Herald, 8/20/1910, front page; El Paso Herald, 8/25/1910). A south side wall collapse about 8 hours after the fire started took the lives of Firefighter Todd Ware and El Paso Mayor W.F. Robinson. Ware was the first El Paso Firefighter to give his life in service to the citizens of El Paso.
Reeling from the fire, Calisher decided to accelerate the construction and completion of their new property (El Paso Herald, 8/15/1910, the day after the fire). Ten days after the fire, Jacob Calisher traveled to Cleveland, Ohio with Henry Trost to view a recently completed department store (El Paso Herald, 8/24/1910), then the pair traveled to New York to meet with company VP J.U. Northman to draw up final plans.
Calishers reopened only 10 days after the Buckler fire in a temporary location, the former Welch's Furniture on Stanton, 1/2 block south of the construction site (El Paso Herald 9/17/1910 pg 24, El Paso Herald, 8/24/1910, Pg 16). The location of the Welch's is currently a parking lot between the International Building and a Subway sandwich shop.
After the Buckler fire, demolition of existing buildings took place quickly and construction of the new one began immediately. Calisher's last day of business at their temporary Welch's location was September 15, 1911 (El Paso Herald, 9/15/1911 pg 12), and their opening day in their new Trost building was on September 25th (El Paso Herald, 9/23/1911, pg 8). This opening was remarkably only 13 months and 11 days after the fire that destroyed the Buckler Block. A glance at the imposing building makes this time frame seem miraculous.
After occupying their new building, for some reason Calishers did not do well. The explosion of business they experienced in the 1900's first decade evaporated. They filed for bankruptcy protection on May 2, 1912, only 7-1/2 months after completing their new building (El Paso Herald, 5/2/1912) and were forced to close for "2 or 3 weeks". The bankruptcy was discharged by a federal judge in Austin, TX on June 15 of the same year (El Paso Herald 6/15/1912 front page) and they had a Bankruptcy Sale on June 17 (El Paso Herald 6/15/1912, pg 8). They plodded along until they finally closed their doors for good in 1915, ironically just as the Popular Dry Goods Co. was expanding and building.
Jacob Calisher's Dream still dominates the corner of Stanton and Texas. We are more than interested to see what becomes of this "storyteller".
Text and research provided to the El Paso Sketch Club by Mark Stone. The historical narrative is from newspaper articles, some reproduced below, accessed at either the Library of Congress' Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) or at the University of North Texas (UNT Denton) digital archives (https://texashistory.unt.edu/). In pictures and newspaper clippings below, any reference to "The Portal to Texas History" references the UNT link.
|Henry Trost's second(?) July 1910 trip to Denver, and to Omaha, planning the new building. El Paso Herald, 7/16/1910. Image Credit: University of North Texas digital archives, via Library of Congress|
|The new building will be based on an existing structure in Cleveland. El Paso Herald, 8/24/1910. Image Credit: University of North Texas digital archives, via Library of Congress|
|Existing structures at the site will be demolished, and work begins immediately, on the new building. El Paso Herald, 10/10/1910. Image Credit: University of North Texas digital archives, via Library of Congress|
|January 27, 1917 as Everybody's Department Store. Image credit: El Paso History Alliance. This picture was used in the 1/27/1917 edition of the El Paso Herald in an article entitled "A Block of Concrete Buildings" on the front page|
|Undated Newberry's photo - perhaps the 1950s? Note the Singer Sewing Machine building and the Plaza Hotel photobombs. Otherwise uncredited image via the El Paso History Alliance|
|Undated, perhaps early 1970s?. Image credit: Portal to Texas History|
|Southeast corner of the building. Picture taken by myself on 8/13/2018|
|In need of restoration, and how. Picture taken by myself on 8/13/2018|
|Picture taken by myself on 8/13/2018|
|The east side of the building, facing Stanton. Broken windows, paint worn off, etc. -- Needs some lovin'! Picture taken by myself on 8/13/2018|
|Front entrance. Picture taken by myself on 8/13/2018|