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Chicago Millinery History: Pearlie Powell Shop April 3, 2017

On June 5, 1917 Clarence Powell submitted and was rejected from the draft for World War 1; rejected because of his feet. Listed as single and a department manager for Mandel Bros department store, he otherwise would have likely gone off and perhaps never returned.

In 1920 Clarence A. Powell, 30 years old, was an import buyer for the highly regarded Mandel Bros store in Chicago. He applied for a passport to go abroad to buy for the store, but he had no birth certificate from his Milwaukee, WI birth in 1890 and had to provide substantial written testimony to this. His friend of over a decade, Mr. Miller, the manager of imports for the store, provided his testimony. Mr. Miller had known Clarence’s father, William, as well, for about 25 years, which was when Charles would have still been in short pants. The 1920 census has Clarence single and living at home with his parents. His father was an advertising manager of a department store, and Clarence was a buyer. They lived at 4949 S. Lake Park Ave.

The passport application was approved, and Clarence returned from his first trip abroad Sept 6, 1920.

In 1921, after Clarence father had passed away, Clarence applied to the Sons of the American Revolution. He documented his heritage back to his great great great great great grandfather, Peter Powell who had served as a private in the American Revolution in PA. Clarence sailed again in August for another buying trip in 1921.

Something fun must have been happening after the difficult year of 1921. Somewhere along the way he met a gal in Chicago, Pearlie. No records of their marriage, nor her youth were located. She was a bit of a pleasant mystery. One who had an eye for fashion and the Clarence left Mandel’s to open a high end shop in her name. He had the buying expertise, she had… Good taste?

Good taste also meant a need to search the continent for the best their money could buy. Pearlie took off for France.

Pearle Powell sailed home alone in Feb 1925 from Cherbourg, France, on the Berengaria, Her residence is listed as the Lake Shore Hotel. The birth date is given as Feb 10, 1891. Tho she may have been alone, with her husband not traveling, the rest of the passengers would have been a treat. Beckie Blum 32, from 5120 High Park Blvd, and Ida Winer, 39, from 5341 High Park Blvd, would have been worth getting to know. Blum’s fashion shop had opened in 1924, and advertised their high end fashions in the Tribune. In time it became known as Blum’s Vogue.

digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org hisotry museum galanos dress from Blum

Even in 1960 ‘Becky’ Blum reminisced about her early support of a then well acknowledged designer, James Galanos. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16029coll3/id/2442/rec/1

Also returning was Robert McCormick, 44 of 80 E Elm in Chicago, tho he may not have had fashion on his mind, but instead upon his newspaper, as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Robert presented his own mystery, as he was alone without his wife Amy, 57, whom he married in 1915, after much in the way of public scandal.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_R._McCormick

From New York was Nettie Rosentstein, 33,residing at 44 56th St, New York, and last but NOT LEAST, Hattie Carneige, 38, of 780 38th St, NY, a fashion force to be reckoned with.

On August 19, 1925 Pearlie and Clarence sailed back from France together on the Olympic, but no obvious fashion names appeared on the passenger lists. They had been on the manifest to depart on Aug 15 on the Berengaria, but did not embark.

In 1927 Pearlie and Clarence return Feb 22 from France, and are listed as living at 320 N. Michigan Ave. Presently this address is the Comfort Suites Hotel, having originally been built in 1888. The building is on the west side of the street, just a few doors south of Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. This made the opening of the bridge in 1920 and the development of the shopping area known now as the Magnificent Mile a very attractive place for an elegant fashion shop. Not moving up to the north Michigan Avenue hot spot may have proved a mistake. Again on board this ship were a couple of fashion names, successful in their careers as well; Nettie Rosenstein and Hattie Carnegie. “In 1925, Carnegie was successful enough to buy a building just off Park Avenue at 42 East 49th Street.[5] By 1929, the business has sales of $3.5 million a year.[3] When spending decreased during the Great Depression, Carnegie created a less expensive line called Spectator Sports.[2]”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_Carnegie

In Aug 1928 Clarence and Pearlie returned to Chicago, now with an address of 1209 Astor St. Chicago.

On the passenger list of Feb 1929 one finds Clarence and Pearle, born in Chicago in 1891, listed as residing at 320 N. Michigan Ave in Chicago. They had arrived on the Aquitania from Cherbourg France. There was only one other woman, Bertha Nikodem, from Chicago who boarded there, who resided at the Congress Hotel. One wonders if they met and enticed a new customer.

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In the 1929 Chicago Tribune online archives of the newspaper one finds ads for Pearlie Powell fashion shop, and twice a year they indicate Mr. and Mrs. Powell have returned from buying trips abroad for the shop. Customers were tantalized by seeing the latest Paris creations, and having a chance to purchase from a long time fashion forward couple.

The 1930 census has Clarence Powell, 40 and Pearlie Powell, 39, living at 1209 N. Astor, with their 42 year old German maid. They are listed as retailers of women’s wear. This address was elite, having been built in 1926. A current property listing is for this unit, under contract, for over $3million.https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1209-N-Astor-St-Chicago-IL-60610/2137675499_zpid/
The Powells were paying $450/month in rent, while others in the building went from $275 to only one which went for more than theirs. This was likely the penthouse for Mr. Robert White, a president of a real estate company, and family, for $585/month. That name may not be familiar, but many Chicagoans would recognize another neighbor who lived with his daughter and her family, Maurice L. Rothschild. It is likely this is one and the same as the store by that name. Rothschilds was a men’s and women’s-wear store in Chicago. It had opened in 1906. In 1931, while the depression progressed, Rothschild’s was adding three floors to their building on State Street. In a Tribune article, placing his worth at $15million, he claimed 70% of his advertising was in the Tribune the year before. No wonder they wrote about him!

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It is clear from this ad in the Chicago Tribune March 16, 1930 that the class of client the Powells desired were the most elite. The plan for this expansion was probably well under way before the stock market crash of Oct, 1929. This was a risky enterprise.

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It seems the worst had come. When the Depression caused even the wealthy to cease expensive fashion spending, retailers on narrow margins could not keep up. To give 2/3 off on elegant fashions must have broken their hearts, as well as their business.

The only other ads seen in 1931 were for $5 hats. Hopefully hats could ease the pain.

There are no further records of this couple in anything on Ancestry.com. They are not in the 1940 census in Chicago, and there are no death records. It is like they disappeared off the face of the earth. One hopes they still had each other, even if all the glory days were over.

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