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Good-bye, Downtown Macy's (Nee Foley's): Six Oddities You May Not Know, Featuring Massive Fallout Shelters, Ghosts & Spider-Man

No more frenzied lunchtime shopping for that gift you forgot.
No more frenzied lunchtime shopping for that gift you forgot.

It's a sad sight walking by the downtown Macy's these days -- a cheap-ass "Going Out Of Business" hangs from its walls, and if you go inside you'll find few floors open and everything -- even the fixtures -- on sale.

It's an undignified ending for the old store, which opened as a Foley's in 1947.

Back then the store was considered a $13 million absolute marvel of the modern world, sure to be a magnet drawing Houston shoppers downtown for decades to come. Which it did, for almost seven decades, until Macy's decided it wasn't a moneymaker and had to close.

It's down to its last little bit of inventory now, and when that's gone the doors will shut -- probably no later than this weekend.

You probably haven't been in the store in years, or maybe even ever, so to send it off as a Macy's, here are six things you may not know about the place:

No shopping during a nuclear attack, please.
No shopping during a nuclear attack, please.

6. There are no windows, so you'll know it's got a/c. You have to admit the building doesn't wow anyone with its beautiful architecture -- it's a box.

It's a windowless box, the nine stories of blank walls (the first floor, ground level, does have windows for passing pedestrians) tending to give the place either an intimidating or utterly bland feeling, depending on how easily you're intimidated.

If people gave it any thought, they'd probably guess the bare outside walls are there to protect against a Russkie a-bomb attack. Actually, according to houstonarchitecture.com, "[t]here are no windows because the owners wanted to emphasize the fact that it was fully climate controlled."

Cold War buffs shouldn't feel ignored, though: In the basement of the building is a huge fallout shelter, now abandoned and off limits, that could hold 39,000 people, according to the City of Houston.

That's some fallout shelter. You could fit four or five Astro crowds in there.

We guess the hulk is undercover as a parade watcher.
We guess the hulk is undercover as a parade watcher.

5. Spider-Man and the Hulk once battled there. Not each other, we assume. (Although we wouldn't put it past Stan Lee.) The superheroes are protecting the rodeo parade and the Foley's in a comic used as a free newspaper insert in 1982.

"But that doesn't look like the downtown Foley's," you say. And that's true. Marvel did not provide individual covers for the three papers involved (the Houston Chronicle, the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express-News).

But -- there is obviously a rodeo parade going on downtown in this illustration, and if San Antonio or Austin ever claimed they had a rodeo parade, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo would laugh them out of town.

So it's Houston, dammit, with a little artistic license thrown in. This store wouldn't make a good fallout shelter, though, what with the large windows and all. Place probably doesn't even have a/c, for that matter, or they would have advertised that fact with huge, boring walls.

 

4. Music sure done changed.

The top song when the store opened: "Peg O' My Heart," by the Harmonicats. Great if you like harmonicas, and who doesn't?

The top song when the store will be closed: "Harlem Shake," by Baauer. Great if you like yet another endless round of video'd amateur attempts at doing a dance, all hoping for that elusive viral-ness. Oh, and who doesn't?




Nuthin' else goin' on, we guess.
Nuthin' else goin' on, we guess.
Photo via Arcadia Publishing & Foley's, by Lasker M. Meyer

3. The opening was a huuuuge event. There wasn't a whole helluva lot happening in Houston on October 20, 1947. That's our assumption, anyway, because the leading entertainment event for an extremely large percentage of Houstonians was....the opening of a department store. The Chronicle says 200,000 showed up but c'mon. We have more faith in the human race than that.

 

Time for the bathroom shift.
Time for the bathroom shift.

2. It's haunted. At least that's the claim made by Brian Vike, founder of hbccufo.org, an organization that investigates strange phenomena but apparently doesn't believe in telling people what the acronym of the group's name stands for.

He's passed on a story from 1994.

A Foley's staffer said she went on a bathroom break.

I entered the restroom and went straight to the mirror and started removing my make up from my purse. Before I could pull all of it out the door behind me opened and in walked a little old lady...

I turned from the mirror and looked at her directly and I assumed that she was a lost customer and said "Mam you really shouldn't be in this area of the store, this area was meant for employee's only."

She never turned her head to look at me. She walked up to the wall mirror just in front of her and placed two large bags in front of it. And said really loudly "Gal watch my bags and have a warm damp towel ready for me when I come out." Ok like I sort of arched my eyebrow's and said what. The woman just went into the stall area without another word. I was bewildered and looked down at the bags. They were Christmas bags. Filled with Christmas gifts and children's toys. Not plastic toys but wooden ones and a few of them were covered with Christmas wrapping paper. I didn't touch them, but I did think that it was odd.

Anyhoooo, long story short (TOO LATE!!), another staffer comes in and...the little old lady was nowhere to be found.

So there you have it -- solid evidence that the place is haunted. Chalk up another win for the Internet.

1. Macy's eliminated a lot of departments...and should have, for crissake.

A website called the Department Store Museum looks back fondly on the long-gone department stores of baby boomers, and it has a page on Houston's Foley's / Macy's .

An anonymous commenter -- the best kind! -- said Macy's had "cannibalized" the store, shutting longtime departments all over the place.

The commenter is horrified at the action, but, ummm, we've gotta say, it's difficult to get too worked up about some of the departments that were eliminated.

Among them, according to the commenter:

1. Fur salon and Fur Storage: It's Houston, so there's more fur storing than there is fur wearing, but who's wearing fur these days anyway?

2. Travel Bureau: Expedia is just a few clicks away. And even if you want to use a travel agent, your first thought on the matter is not "that place over by bedspreads and curtains! They must be great!"

3. Estate Jewelry: We don't even know what the hell it is, but we're guessing you can get it in places that aren't downtown.

4. Table Top Shop: The department-store equivalent of Top O' The Muffin, highlighted in the video above.

5. Books: A two-fer -- a doomed store and a doomed method of selling books.

So as Foley's / Macy's rides metaphorically off into the sunset, we can only wish a fond adieu. And head to the mall (or the computer) for our shopping needs.

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