H. C. Capwell Co., Oakland, California

Illustration of Capwell's store which opened
to the public in August of 1929,
replacing an earlier location built in 1912

Oakland's Quality Department Stores

H. C. Capwell Co. (Capwell’s) (1889/1912/1929)
Oakland, CA 94612

TEmplebar 2-1111

The Terrace Room Luncheonette  Post Office  Toys • Sporting Goods • Capwell’s Basement Store

Street Floor

Precious Fashion Jewelry 143 • Silverware 160 • Fashion Jewelry 141 • Hat Bar • Handkerchiefs • Hosiery 251 • Neckwear • Gloves 260 • Fashion Accessories 233 • Handbags 172, 173 • Leather Goods 171 • Cosmetics 120 • Fragrances 121 • Toiletries 124 • Sweaters 380 • Blouses 390 • Street Floor Sportswear 385 • Casual Shoes 423 • Women’s Shoes 421, 427 • Famolare Shoes 421 • Cameras • Stationery 200 • Candy • Books • Home and Business Machines 207 • Notions • Men’s Accessories 510 • Men’s Furnishings 511, 512, 514 • Men’s Sportswear 500, 506, 507, 517 • Men’s Active Sportswear 519 • Vanguard 520 • 20th & Broadway 525 • Men’s Clothing 508 • Men’s Hats • Men’s Shoes 540 • Boys’ Wear 550


Repair • Travel Service

Second Floor

California Dresses 357 • Social Dressing 345 • California Sportswear 389, 383 • Active Sportswear 384, 386 • Casual Dresses • Town & Country Dresses 352 • California Coats 310 • Suits • Better Dresses 350 • Better Sportswear 393 • Better Coats 300 • Contemporary Sportswear 392 • Furs 400 • Millinery • Designers Gallery • Bridal Shop  Collegienne Shop 348, 374, 376 • Collegienne Sportswear 368, 371, 375 • Collegienne Coats • Collegienne Suits • Collegienne Shoes 421 • Beauty Salon • Sleepwear 444 • Shape Shop 448 • Lingerie 450 • Loungewear 480 • Infants’ Wear 461 • Toddlers’ Wear 465 • Girls’ Wear 471 • Girls’Accessories 464 • Teen Shop 475 • Children’s Accessories 469 • Children’s Shoes • Boys’ Wear 467

Third Floor
Merritt Shops
Merritt Dresses 360 • Merritt Sportswear 381 • Merrit Coats and Suits • Merritt Women’s Dresses • Daytime Dresses • Uniforms • Maternity

Sewing Center • Art Needleworkr • Luggage 560 • China 651 • Glassware 632 • Gifts 280 • Table Top 61 • Housewares • Basic Housewares • Decorative Housewares 690 • Cookware 680 • Gourmet Shop • Kitchenware/Gourmet 670 • Small Electrics • Appliances • Lamps • Pictures and Mirrors • Lamps • Radios • Hi Fi • Televisions 706 • Records • Photograph Studio

Fourth Floor

Furniture 603, 605 • Casual Furniture 680 • Rugs 615 • Sleep Shop • Draperies • Curtains • Patio Shop

Fifth Floor

Roof Garden Restaurant
(500,000 s.f.)

Walnut Creek
Broadway Plaza
March, 1954

22301 Foothill Blvd.
September, 1957

El Cerrito Plaza
#1 El Cerrito Plaza
July, 1958
140,000 sq. ft.

2500 Mowry Avenue
February, 1968
183,000 sq. ft.
Mission Buffet

Hilltop Mall
August, 1976
150,000 s.f.

Coming in due course.


  1. I worked part time as a stock boy in the Oakland store for several years in the 1960s while I was a student at Berkeley. It was a great store, lovely old building.

  2. In the 70s I worked at I. Magnin across the street...
    Capwells had a branch of the Post Office in the basement - that was where I took the meters to be for postage refill. There also was a very large pink coffee shop type restaurant in the basement.

    I always liked Capwells

  3. Just bought a beautiful old wooden chair that had HC Capwell's Broadway, Telegraph stamped on the bottom of the seat. Nice wood work and I really like the design. Glad to know its a bit old and I enjoy knowing where it came from.

  4. I vividly remember the El Cerrito Plaza store. It had a large, red neon sign which you could see from BART and up in the El Cerrito hills (if you were driving on Arlington Blvd., you could clearly see it). Capwell's was bought out by the Emporium in the early 60s, but the stores only became known as Emporium Capwell in the 80s sometime.

    The El Cerrito Capwell's was the first place I ever saw automatic faucets in the bathroom; an annoying development. I do believe nothing remains of the original department store structure remains since El Cerrito Plaza's redesign in the 1990s.

  5. I fondly worked for the Emporium Capwell in the late 1980's until their demise in the 1990's. I was dispatched to the Downtown Oakland store after the Oct 1989 earthquake that shook the building slightly off its foundation. I worked weeks in the dusty 'bargain basement' that was the clearance center at the time. The 20th St BART train station opened up to the basement entrance. I remember the huge freight elevators that were still operated by hand to raise them just to the right level of each floor to load and unload all the merchandise! The Roof Garden on the 5th floor was beautiful on a sunny day! They still had "The Lace House" placards on the front entrances and the beautiful chandeliers on the high ceilinged first floor.

  6. I have a beautiful, well kept hat box with the original "Capwell's" logo on the top. Does anyone know of a place where I might be able to sell it?

    Cristin (creichmuth AT yahoo DOT com)

  7. To Cristin,
    We are working on a film right now that deals with Capwells Department Store history. I would love to purchase that hat box if I could. My email is monty@hpr.com
    Thanks so much,

  8. I have a vintage pink beaded clutch/purse that is trimmed in metal and I was wondering if anyone had information on it I still have the original HC Capwell box it came in though the box is tattered. Please email me at erins@lincolnxing.org if you think you might know more about it.


  9. I live in Oakland with my wife and daughter. While we were visiting my in laws near Boston, they gave to my 4 year old daughter a child's size fox fur muff and hat still in the Cadwell's original box from 1965 or so. Round trip back to Oakland after 45 years.

  10. Worked at Capwells Department store in the early 70's. Remember when Marqauz Hemingway was there to promote her perfume.

  11. These memories are wonderful, I never worked at Capwell's but I shopped there! I enjoyed the Walnut Creek Capwell's from 1976 to 1993, and I worked at East Bay MUD in Oakland and walked to Capwells every pay day to treat myself!

  12. My family shopped at Capwell's in the 1940's. It was far more elegant than our other downtown Oakland shopping destinations, Sear's, Penny's, or Hales. Capwell's smelled of perfume and luxury; Sears smelled of popcorn (there was a popcorn machine at the bottom of the basement stairs).

    I worked in Capwell's as a "salesgirl" when I was in college (1959-63) Dress code was solid color dresses or skirts in black, beige, gray or brown. White blouses. Stockings a must. Shoes were pumps or flats.

  13. They had more branch stores, 11 I think by the time they joined Emporium.

  14. My family owned the Downtown Foodmart across the street. It too was built in 1929. 305@nyms.net

  15. can anyone tell me if they sold furs I have a beautful fur coat with high shouldernad long black
    and the tag says THE H.C.CAPWELL co.
    if any on can help me my email is
    smailliwkl@comcast.net thank-you lorraine

  16. I was a department manager when the earthquake in 89 did so much damage. My office was on the mezzaine. Fond memories of the people. I just set up a Face Book group for pictures and memories should anyont be interested

  17. I worked at Capwells downtown Oakland in the mid 1770s as an assistant junior buyer, and as a promotion we hosted an appearance of the Commodores before Lionel Richie broke off from the band. I was just out of college and this was my first job so I had no idea what to expect. What a mob scene with screaming fans!

  18. I remember when they were hosting Ertha Kitt when she was touring in the musical "Timbuktu", such a tiny lady, there was a line going out the door to see her. I also remember a resteraunt in the basement of Capwell's where Mon and I would eat lunch. During the late 60's or early 70's they had a "Mod" Teen section, done in psychidellic colors and teen girls and their Mom's could rest and have a coke from the coke machine. I do rememember the post office, the Bart Station in the basement as well as a Lady who would mend ladies 'laddered' nylons. In the mezzanine was a watch repair and travel section. And the ladies in the cosmetics mixing your own special blend of face powder, I think the brand was "Charles of the Ritz". The place was elegance personified.

  19. I have a recipe box full of printed recipes with weekly dates in 1930 on them. The bottom of each card says "Susan Little, Director, Post-Enquirer Bureau of Home Economics-- Free Cooking Classes Every Thursday-- Auditorium of The H. C. Capwell Co., Oakland". I'd love to find out more about this.

  20. I worked iin the addressograph department between high school and college (1959). Then, three years later, I registered china and silver for my bridal registry on Capwells's first floor. Downtown shopping was a wonderful place to shop in thoses days. So much has changed...sign!

  21. Hello I never knew the pleasure of Emporium capwell, but my wife is a child did. Apparently in the 1987/1988 years, they put out a rabbit for Easter called Sunny Bunny. This was my wife's prized possessions a child and she practically wore it out, so her grandmother threw it away and she has never forgotten. Since you all remember the store, I am posting this story here in hopes that one of you may still have one of these stuffed rabbits, if you do, I would gladly buy it from you. The_clockwork@hotmail.com

  22. I worked as a stock boy at the Fremont Store from 1970 to about 1977-78. I was paid a generous hourly rate because management wanted to keep the Teamster's Union at bay. I also had paid vacations and medical insurance. My income and related benefits from Capwell's allowed me to go to college (U.C. Berkeley) and law school (Santa Clara University). I will be forever grateful to Capwell's and the Teamster's Union.

    There was one other significant side benefit as well: my wife of 36 years. She was the cute little redhead in the Art Gifts Department. We have three children and three granchildren and counting.

  23. I grew up in Oakland in the 1960s. Every year we would go to see Santa at the main Capwell's, in that big window facing the corner. Many family photos from the era. Also, my grandmother would take me to matinees at the Fox Oakland (in its declining days) and then bring me to Capwell's to buy me a hair ribbon from the notions counter. Sometimes we'd have a treat in the basement cafe, where the cream for her coffee was served in thumb-sized glass milk bottles. I loved that store. It was my first credit card.

  24. I have a few scattered memories from trips to the Plaza Capwell's in the 70's mostly with my mother. The price of most items in the candy machine on the ground floor was $0.15, and I remember thinking that seemed a bit low. People smoked in the store, and I vividly recall the heavy stand-ashtrays scattered around the store. My mother would cash checks upstairs at a kind of banking window; seems like something out of the 60's. They proudly featured the first Pong console when it came out. I think we got one for Xmas that year. Around that same time I remember they were offering the Pet Rock. Final memory is of getting Gerald Irons's (I think...) autograph one evening with my dad near the toy section upstairs.

  25. My grandmother, Lillian Rose Buffum, worked in the yardage department of the Oakland store for 24 years, about 1942-1962, I believe. I still have her scissors that she used to cut fabric during all that time. I also have somewhere her length-of-service pins. Capwell's honored their longtime employees with pins for every five years of service, I believe, and gave them a lovely commendation and party when they retired. I remember, during WWII, my grandmother would take two or three of her grandchildren at a time for a special outing. First we'd go to Capwell's, where Grammy would buy us a hankie or a pair of socks with her 20% discount, then it was a movie at a theater nearby (can't remember the name), and finally ice cream at Edy's.

  26. Oh, how I missed working at the Emporium on Broadway. It was a beautiful store back in the early 90's. I started out as a stock clerk working for Michael Moore for a year and then moved on to the sales floor working any shift that was available to me until they put me in the Young Men's department. The camaraderie there was good.

  27. My mother and her sisters shopped at Capwell's Oakland in the 1930's when my mom owned a beauty salon a few blocks from the UC Berkeley campus. When I was a child, we'd always make a trek from our home in the 'burbs to Capwell's during the holidays - and have lunch at the Pepto-Bismol-Pink ladies luncheonette in the basement. When I was a pre-teen, would go to Capwell's with an older cousin and felt so grown-up. In 1968, I went to work for Capwell's in the 1st floor cosmetics/wig department - where I custom-blended chignons for customers while they waited and cut/styled wigs. Met the love of my (early) life when he parked my car one morning in a lot across the street(who is now a retired physician.) Capwell's 1929 architecture/interior was so elegant - wood, brass & glass - and their holiday decor gorgeous. Capwell's held so many memories for me - and I still miss it.

  28. Several people have mentioned the luncheonette in Capwell's basement. It was called The Terrace Room.

  29. I grew up with Capwell's. My Mother worked in Accessories from 1958 until 1970. Her name was Rose and she could put together outfits like no one else. We lived in Berkeley, caught the bus up the street from our house and got off at Capwell's. I was there about three times a week. I remember the Christmas windows and the Luncheonette in the Basement. I got all my clothes there. Capwell's was like part of the family because I spent so much time there. I would go to ballet lessons nearby and walk to Capwell's to take the bus home with my Mother. When I graduated from CAL I went to work as an Executive Trainee at the Emporium. Just keeping it in the family. We also shopped at the El Cerrito store and ate hamburgers at a restaurant next door. I love them because they were so delicious because the grease just ran down my arm. Ah the good old days.

  30. I remember, they sold and stored furs in the 1940's and early 50's, as young boy in the 1940.s and 1950.s we used to rush downtown to Capwell.s to see the elaborate Christmas decoratins. I moved to the subburbs in !954.

  31. Iremember as High school student in the early 1950,s, we went to Capwells after school at Oakland Tech. .To listen to records one friend had to call homeand I was leaning on a box by the phone,soon I was surronded by several security guards. The box was a money payment box>

  32. Worked at the Alice St. warehouse in early '70's and the main warehouse near the freeway in Oakland to closing in ~1981. Nice memories

  33. I worked at Capwell's from 1974 to 1977...Was a great place, housewares on the 3rd floor always had these motherly type women selling blenders, pots whatever for a kitchen (nice ladies)...worked in sales in mens furnishings clock repair, sort of jack of all trades...you knew knew what department, you might end up in, but was fun store...I was in my teens then, and we all had to call our older co workers...(Mr or Mrs or Miss) no first names...LOL

  34. This store is now a Sears. There is a weird cognitive dissonance when you walk in...
    standing at the top of the stairs, looking down into a store with beautiful marble and chandeliers with cheap Sears merch. I grew up in Chicago and it reminded me of Marshall Fields.

  35. Melody Riversmith18 April, 2013 00:15

    I worked at the Emporium Capwell on Foothill boulevard in Hayward beginning in 1981 when I was a 16-year old junior at Hayward High. I moved with the store when we relocated to Southland Mall and became simply 'Emporium'. Stayed at that job for 9 years. Met lots of good people and got the BEST customer service training one could ask for. The conflict avoidance, conflict resolution and customer interaction skills we were taught have served me well throughout my life and have given me the edge in more than one job interview. I am very thankful for my time at EC and will always remember those years -- and that place -- with great fondness.
    Thanks for the blog!!

  36. Greetings! Our GNARINI side of my family has lived in Piedmont/Oakland since the 1860s. I recently found pictures of me as a little child with the Capwell's Santa dated from 1948 through 1951. Yes, the same Santa. The beauty of their window displays has stuck with me all through the years. Gaea (GNARINI) VAUGHAN

  37. Pamela Hitchins17 May, 2013 14:45

    I grew up going to the downtown Oakland Capwell's in the 50s and 60s. My mother, Marian Purtymun, worked on the fourth floor three or four months a year taking and processing orders for imprinted Christmas cards. Her office was just off the Sleep Shop, where she would pass Mr. Walters at work selling mattresses and joke around with him.

    We always shopped at Capwell's for school clothes and Christmas presents, and would go see Santa there and look at the beautiful window displays. It was such a beautiful building on a December night, all lit up and decorated!

    Whenever I went to the store I was fascinated by the system of vacuum tubes through which messages were sent between departments. People dressed up to go shopping downtown, the men in coats and hats and the women in heels, hats, and gloves. No one went shopping in their pajamas!

    My sister reminded me this morning that our grandmother, Violet Randall, also worked at Capwell's for many years, in one of the corporate offices on the mezzanine and as a personal shopper. My grandmother never drove a car, and would take the bus down Telegraph every day from San Leandro. Sometimes, if we were visiting her, she would take us on the bus to downtown Oakland to shop at Capwell's, visit the other ladies who worked on the mezzanine (Genise, was one of them), and buy us lunch at the basement lunch counter.

    Years later, when I lived in the Boston area, I assciated Jordan Marsh with the elegance, class, and dressiness of Capwell's. Neither exists anymore. :-(

  38. Looking at the picture of the beautiful Oakland store, I also am reminded of the time our grandmother, Violet Randall, waited outside one door while her husband, Harold, double-parked in front of ANOTHER door, each wondering where the other one was and why they were late!

  39. I have a postcard of the rooftop gardens and would like to know who designed it, who took care of it and was it available for public use???

  40. I own a picture painted by Mrs. Josephine E. Capwell when her address was 145 Monte Cresta Avenue, Oakland, Ca. This was painted in the early 1900's.
    The subject is the Palace in Seville, Spain.
    She was married to Henry Capwell owner of the
    Capwell Stores. It is in the original frame and her idenity is on the bck side of the picture. The size is 28" X 31" in frame.
    I am intereted in contacting any of the Capwell family or the Capwell Museum about selling the picture. Please contact me at donnarae@centurylink.net.

  41. Does anyone remember a store on Broadway called 'Halliday's'? I don't know what they carried, exactly, but I do know some items were nice gifts. Each item had a foil sticker on the back that said, 'Halliday's 1750 Broadway, Oakland, CA'

  42. I have many fond memories dating back to my early childhood going to the basement restaurant. We always sat at waitress Tillies station.a tiny little lady with a big deep voice. I can still hear her say "you did,'nt eat all your peas! Then we would go to the sheet music department where Mom bought her piano music. Later after college I joined the executive training program,became a buyer ,and left in 1987.

  43. Searching for photos of the Capwell's Estate at 145 Monte Cresta Avenue in Oakland near Piedmont...please respond to my email:


    Thanks, R.L.

  44. Fran Lones Blackney06 July, 2013 21:43

    I treasure the photos of me in the early fifties sitting on Santa's lap in the big, corner window. Later in life, my mother would bring us to the El Cerrito store to school shop since our hometown, Santa Rosa, didn't have many stores yet.

    Little did I know that after graduation from college in 1972, I'd join the buyer program and spend 7 great years there. Started out as an assistant buyer in toys in Oakland. The grand opening of the BART station in the basement was a really big deal. I then went to yardage and notions in El Cerrito, Womens dresses and coats in Fresmont, back to Oakland as an assistant buyer in juniors then returned to Fremont as a division manager. Ended up back in Oakland as the first better sportswear and swimwear buyer. It was during the drought of 76. Didn't sell many swimsuits!

    Loved traveling to New York where I saw the very first Liz Claiborne line in her loft.

    In 1975, they brought in a lot of new executives from Kaufman's in Pittsburg who didn't seem to grasp that California buyers were different than those in the mid-west. Many of them didn't last long, but things were never the same.

    Nevertheless, I have lots of great memories and made lots of friends. We had great parties. lol

  45. Fran Lones Blackney06 July, 2013 22:06

    Memories of the Oakland store in the seventies

    My starting salary in 1972 was $600/month that was pretty high back then. They actually adjusted it to $625 before I started. I was rich.

    The women's dress code was only dark blue or black dresses. Coming out of college, I didn't have any but fortunately they allowed pant suits before I started.

    We were open late only on Thursdays, then they added Mondays, Fridays, Wednesdays, Tuesdays, Saturdays and finally being open on Sundays.

    There was no air conditioning and somedays it got really hot. You could see the hot air literally floating down the aisle.

    Smoking was allowed until about 1973. Our clothes and the merchandise would just reek.

    No electronic cash registers. They were barely electric. You had to punch the keys then hit a tab bar for the total.

    "Credit Cards" were little plates with the customers' names on them. You ran a roller over them to get the name on the receipt. Then you called upstairs for approval. Later, we used pneumatic tubes to send the charges upstairs.

    This was the decade of the Oakland Raiders being Super Bowl Champs. One year, the men's notions buyer was able to get the Super Bowl memoorabilia into the store the morning after the game. That was a huge deal. We heard there was prison labor involved, but who knows.

    Their victory parade went right by the store and many of the players would come in and shop.

    About 1976, the store went under a major remodel, a major headache but I still remember the Grand Opening party. Della Reese came and performed. It was something special.

  46. My grandfather, Frederic Hirschler, joined Capwell in 1925 as a stock boy. He climbed the ranks to become the CEO and chairman of the board at Emporium Capwell by the time he retired in 1966. I remember going to the stores when I was a little girl, and I have a vivid memory of the escalator, which had big wide wooden grooves, unlike the metal ones we had back east, where I grew up. We also received boxes of chocolates each winter, with nonpareils that came from "Papa's store." I would be interested in any stories anyone reading this blog would have about my Papa Fred.

  47. the very first store was called "The Lace House" and was located on Washington Street (Old Oakland)

  48. I loved Capwell's as a young girl and then a teenager back in the 40s and 50s. Had my photo with the Santa in the big window, remember watching a lady repair silk stockings in the basement, the travel agency on a little mezzanine, the pneumatic system that ran all throughout the store and sucked up tubes headed to some mysterious end destination. One bad memory tho...back in those days a clerk would help fit you with your first bra. My mother dragged me to the section where this was done and I was never the same afterward. I still have bad dreams about it.

  49. I have a really nice Mink fur stole from Capwells. I inherited from my Auntie who lived and passed away in Oakland. I dont have ocassions to wear it as I live in a state that the weather doesnt alow much use for. May be interested in selling it. email: sherrysmans@yahoo.com

  50. Does anyone remember an employee locker area in the Oakland store? I recently purchased a bank of lockers and I believe they are from the Oakland store when it opened in 1928. They are green and have full length and small lockers. I would love more history about them.

  51. I worked in the downtown store as a buyer trainee in the early 70s. Until I left for a 40 yr career with Safeway. I remember they delivered your purchases free and they had a lady on the first floor who repaired your gloves...downtown days were a mob waiting to get in especially from the Bart enteance

  52. I worked as a personal shopper one Christmas season after college and then transferred to the ad department where I wrote copy. I remember one Levi's ad where the Tribute reversed the colors--the sky was green and the grass was blue. It sold so many pairs of Levi's that the buyer ran it again the same way. We worked hard, played hard, and had alot of fun there. Great people, beautiful store.

  53. I grew up with Capwell's as ''the exquisite'' store in Oakland. I worked there in the women's dress dept. the Christmas season of 1963 - 1964 . It was such a formally-dressed store. Beautiful window dressings all year round, with the Christmas season being the best and most elaborate ever. Such a shame we've lost such a simply elegant store!

  54. My grandmother, Edna L. Blay worked for many years at the Oakland Capwells. I believe her tenure was in the late 40's thru early 60's. Grandma was very proud of her role and position and often said not only was she a cashier, she was the head cashier! I know that we'd visit her sometimes at the office and I just don't remember what floor it was on. I also have a photo of me on Santa's lap taken in 1956.