Browse the Aisles of History By John Weeks - 10/23/2008 Redlands Daily Facts
We can't go to the Harris Co. anymore, alas, but we can do the next best thing.
We can flip through the pages of a wonderful new book, "The Harris Company," which is packed with nearly 200 vintage photos of the grand old San Bernardino department store in its glory years.
Browsing this book is like going back in time and browsing the aisles.
"The Harris Company" (Arcadia Publishing, $19.99) is by local scholars Aimmee L. Rodriguez, Richard A. Hanks and Robin S. Hanks. You can purchase the book and meet the authors at a special event Saturday at the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum. More about that in a minute.
Those of us who have lived in the Inland Empire for more than a few years keep a special place in our hearts for Harris', as it commonly was called.
The palatial four-story store opened in 1927 at Third and E streets in downtown San Bernardino and immediately became known as one of the swankiest stores in Southern California.
It was so successful, it eventually expanded to become a chain, with stores in San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Kern counties.
In the early 1970s, it became the anchor of the new Central City Mall, which now is called Carousel Mall. But it faded during the recession of that decade, as did the mall and all of downtown San Bernardino. Eventually, in 1982, it was sold to a European company, and in 1998 it became part of the Gottschalks chain, which closed the flagship store in San Bernardino in 1999.
The building has remained vacant since, though its fate continues to be the subject of lively discussion.
In its heyday, Harris' was where you shopped, if you had serious shopping to do.
I was in my mid-teens in the mid-'60s, when Beatlemania ruled the day and "Mod" fashions were overtaking the planet. Me and some of the guys piled into the car and went in search of polka-dot shirts.
My friends were sure we'd have to go to L.A. to find such precious items, but I said no, let's try Harris' first.
We did. And Harris' had them.
Let me tell you, I wore the black shirt with large white polka dots that I bought that day for the rest of the decade.
I loved Harris'. Everyone loved Harris'. In the new book, "The Harris Company," we are reminded of many things we've forgotten, and we learn some new things we never knew:
In its early days, Harris' had a landscaped rooftop garden where parties, dances and other events were held. There were even pony rides for the kids.
Harris' was not only a store, but a community center. It had cafes and a tea room, a beauty parlor, a barber shop, even a lending library in its book department.
The store was mobbed by curiosity-seekers in 1947 when the Inland Empire's first "motorstairs" debuted. Today they are called escalators.
The authors of "The Harris Company" will meet the public and sign copies of their book from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, located at the restored historic San Bernardino Depot at 1170 W. Third St.
I'll be there, too, signing copies of my new book, "Inland Empire" (Arcadia Publishing, $19.99), which offers a nostalgic tour of our whole region.
John Weeks is features editor.
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