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HISTORICALLY HOUSTON Foley’s: A Remembered Holiday Tradition

Foley’s Main Street window, designed for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1950. Display forecasts Houston's skyline in year 2000.

Foley’s Main Street window, designed for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1950. Display forecasts Houston’s skyline in year 2000.

By Dr. Teresa Tomkins-Walsh

News of the impending demolition of the Macy’s née Foley’s downtown building flooded newspapers, the Internet and television in August 2013. Protests to the rather expeditious decision concentrated less on the business rationale and more on the significance of personal and collective memories.

Foley’s downtown store was a symbol for so many of the meanings that Foley’s had for Houstonians – a symbol for Houston’s dramatic recovery after the Second World War and a symbol for the city’s escalating affluence during the latter half of the 20th century. More than a retail business, Foley’s Department Store became a fixture of Houston’s community, offering philanthropy, employment, entertainment and fashion.

Preserved photographs reveal the evolution of Foley’s downtown stores from the Foley’s Brothers early enterprises through every step of construction of Kenneth Franzheim’s pioneering 1947 design of the “store of tomorrow.” Construction began on the $9-million Foley’s store in 1946. Final construction costs would total $13 million. When Foley’s at Main and Dallas opened in 1947, it was the first complete department store built in the United States since 1928.1

The new Foley’s was an architectural phenomenon. Design features included a pleasing combination of fluorescent and incandescent lights to illuminate the store and escalators wide enough to carry three people abreast. On the Main Street side was the curved vista featuring the largest display window in the country.

In 1950, Foley’s sponsored Santa’s Ride from Union Station to Foley’s. The following year, Santa’s Ride became a full-fledged parade (Thanksgiving Day) that continued for 44 years, and was an annual event attended by thousands of Houstonians and viewed on television by many others. Viewing Foley’s Christmas windows became another holiday tradition. Foley’s Christmas windows are often the first memory that patrons share when they consider their personal connection with Foley’s.

Because the Foley’s Department Store Records are preserved and open to the public, memories of Foley’s will persist beyond the life of the Main Street building and beyond the lifetimes of those who personally experienced Foley’s as a community partner, benefited from Foley’s social action, enjoyed the shopping and crowded into the family car to travel downtown to view the Foley’s Christmas windows.

Foley’s Christmas windows during the 1980s.

Foley’s Christmas windows during the 1980s.

Celebrate the season



Author Dr. Teresa (Terry) Tomkins-Walsh is historian and archivist for the Houston History Archives with the Center for Public History at the University of Houston.  Located in Special Collections at the UH Libraries, the Archives collects historical documents on the growth and development of Houston with particular concentrations in energy, environmental and ethnic history. Contact her at tomkinswalsh@uh.edu.

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