Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Christmas in San Francisco

Someone posted a picture of the City of Paris Christmas tree and it got me all nostalgic for the Christmases of my youth.

The City of Paris was a big department store on Union Square, one I always thought of as "the fanciest" department store.  We couldn't afford it, so we shopped at the Emporium or Macy*s.

But we always visited the City of Paris at Christmas time.  The big open rotunda was filled with a 3-story tall Christmas tree that was lavishly decorated.  You could spend an hour just staring at all the things that were hung on that tree.

It was where our downtown adventure started each year.  Sadly, the store closed and was torn down in 1980, to be replaced 2 years later by Neiman Marcus, which also has a kind of Christmas tree each year, but nothing like what I remember from my childhood.

(One thing I loved about the City of Paris, in my teen age years, was that I was studying French and they had a French bookstore in the basement--or maybe it was a regular book store which also sold books in French.  They also had a restaurant with the best creamed spinach I have ever had!)

When I was growing up, you "dressed up" to go downtown.  That meant, for little kids, patent leather shoes, our best dresses, and gloves (oh how I hated gloves!)  When I got older, the patent leather shoes were replaced with high heels.  You rarely see people dressed up downtown any more.  Jeans and t-shirts are just fine.

But as a kid, we loved looking at all the holiday decorations, but especially the fancy windows at the Emporium, on Market Street.

The other stores, like Macy*s also had decorated windows, but none as elaborate as the Emporium, which had a different theme each year and lots of moveable pieces.

After we had our fill of the windows, we went up to the third floor to see Santa.  I always think of those trips when watching the Davis Sedaris comedy, "Santaland Diaries," in which he was hired to play an elf guiding little kids like me into seeing Santa.  I remember that there was a zig-zag line and Sedaris  talks about "vomit corner" where kids who got progressively more nervous to meet The Man Himself, finally relieved themselves.  I don't think I ever vomited, but I had the largest butterflies ever waiting to see Santa.

And then when you had finally let him know what your Christmas wishes, you exited onto the Roof Rides.  It was an actual carnival n the roof, some 3-4 stories off the ground.  There was a train....

...and a merry go round, a long slide and other carnival rides.  But the one I remember most vividly was the Ferris wheel.

It always did make me nervous to go up in any Ferris wheel, but when you reached the top of this one and looked down, you weren't looking down on the merry go round or the train, you were looking four stories down to the street!  That's enough to need a "vomit corner" right there.

The Emporium closed in 1995 and there are no more roof rides and the stores in downtown now may decorate for Christmas (I think Macy*s fills its windows with adoptable animals from the SPCA) but I'm so glad I grew up in the hey day of over the top Christmas decorations in San Francisco.

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