It was on this day ninety years ago that the doors to the Elizabeth C. Quinlan building in Minneapolis first opened its doors. It was the new home of the Young-Quinlan department store. The building was designed by residential architect Frederick L. Ackerman from New York to be a “beautiful home” for customers to shop in. In fact, the grand opening of the building was dubbed a housewarming by Quinlan.
Thousands of people lined up along Nicollet, as well as Ninth Street, which was almost shut down to automobiles because of the crowd, for the chance at being among the first to see Quinlan’s “perfect gem” of a building. The store would be open from 10:00 am until 5:30 pm, and again from 7:30 until 10:00 pm to allow everyone a chance to tour the store.
Minneapolis Mayor George Leach spoke at the opening ceremony and remarked that Quinlan “would always be remembered as one of the true builders of this city.” He then called for three cheers for Quinlan, which the crowd of thousands gave enthusiastically.
The lucky customers that made it inside the store during the housewarming found that the shops on the first floor were grouped together in a way that was most convenient for shopping. On three sides, arched windows allowed daylight into the store to assist with choosing the right fabrics and colors. Only every third window was used for displays. At the back, a wide staircase of Roman travertine and delicately wrought iron carried customers to the entresol (mezzanine). There, fine gifts such as antique lace, Viennese pottery, and delicate crystal could be admired and purchased.
Arched passages on the second floor led customers to a series of individual shops including the gown shop, the coat shop, the simple frock corner, the fur shop, and the millinery. A sitting area in the main hallway was referred to as le passage—a popular meeting place before luncheon or tea.
The third floor was devoted to lingerie and boudoir apparel, as well as clothing for children.
When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, customers were transported to Paris. Blue-green carpet and wall panels were reminiscent of the green trees and lush grass of the Bois de Boulogne. Colorful wall hangings gave the impression of tropical sunlight. This was Le Rendezvous de Esler. A place where customers could enjoy the finest cuisine prepared by the Esler sisters for luncheon, tea, or dinner and dancing. Semi-private dining rooms were available to small groups that required a hint of privacy.
An artistically draped stage faced an auditorium on the fifth floor. This was to be the location of seasonal fashion debuts, style reviews, openings, and private showings.
Back in the lobby at the end of the evening, Quinlan humbly reminisced about how far she had come since she and Fred Young had opened their first store in a subleased corner of the Syndicate Block. “I remember many years ago when a boy and girl up there at Nicollet Avenue and Third Street, and without a dollar in the world, started a little ladies store,” she said. “By thrift and by industry they built until now we have this beautiful temple of trade, of style, of fashion. How has it come to pass? By having big ideals and by hard work.”