Golden Years: Goodbye To All That

JPress_demo_Dec2013_460x345_0_0_460The walls are slated to come tumbling down on the J. Press building in New Haven at 262 York Street. The structurally unsound building is scheduled to be razed next month.

The J. Press story began the turn of the century, serendipitously around the corner from the current J. Press quarters, on College Street. JC Goldbaum was a bespoke tailor on Chapel Street who had sold to Yale students since the Civil War. Grandfather Jacobi Press learned both tailoring and the English language as an intern in Goldbaum’s second-floor quarters. Two years after arriving in New Haven an immigrant from the Pale of Russia, he knocked on doors showing swatches to students in the Yale dorms at the same time while he was running Goldbaum’s tailor shop.

My grandfather was a dapper man, carefully decked out in three-piece English woolens, garnering his wardrobe as if to-the-manner born of Professor William Lyon Phelps, Coach Walter Camp, and other notables on the Yale campus. He adopted the gift of gab and a quick sense of humor, and soon was regularly invited to serve the tweed-clad elites on bended knee. He also drummed up most of Goldbaum’s business. The older gentleman obliged Grandpa’s acumen, selling him what had become Goldbaum & Press in 1902, which then became J. Press

In the half decade since its founding, the enterprise bearing his name expanded geometrically in capital and prestige. The narrow confines of the old shop were bursting at the seams with multitudes of garments stuffed from every corner. Seizing the moment, in 1907 Grandpa Press bought the fashionable French Second Empire-styled building directly across from Pierson College at 262 York Street. Originally built circa 1860, the gregarious urban townhouse was the home of Cornelius Pierpont, a prominent merchant grocer, manufacturer and street railway man. Mr. Pierpont’s trophy occupied 30,000 square feet on three floors over a warehouse-sized basement, and featured multiple front and back entrances that over the course of its history were able to accommodate Barrie Ltd. Shoe Store, Klingerman’s Luncheonette, Stonehill Rare Books, Valentine’s Barber Shop, and, during the administration of President George W. Bush, half  the second floor to accommodate the Secret Service guarding the President’s daughter during her undergraduate years at Yale.

When I entered the family business in 1959, the building employed seven clothing sales associates, two fitters, a patternmaker, cloth cutter, cloth marker, merchandise manager, office staff of 12, three shipping clerks, truck driver, house cleaning attendant, window-dresser, and 14 tailors on the third floor above the executive office of my father, Paul, who was chief financial officer. Twenty-five tailors occupied a separate custom shop on Broadway.

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The New Haven Preservation Trust is actively lobbying J. Press owners to respect historical precedents in their plans to rejuvenate the property. With York Street genes coursing through my veins, but no longer part of J. Press, I may only bray to the moon the World War I requiem of 1st Viscount Gray of Fallodon: “The lights are going out all over York Street and we shall never see them lit again in our time.” — RICHARD PRESS

Top photo by Mark Alden Branch for the Yale Alumni Magazine.

7 Comments on "Golden Years: Goodbye To All That"

  1. Doomed from here to eternity, great piece Reb Squeeze.

  2. Frank R Brown III, MD | December 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |

    Thanks for the historical perspectives on the 262 York Street original J. Press location. My son and I experienced first hand the catastrophic damage to the building during our February 2013 visit to Yale for my son to interview at the business school. He had an interview scheduled weeks in advance and we arrived (from South Carolina) in New Haven to experience what was described as one of the largest snowfalls in the city’s history. As part of our visit we tried to drop in J. Press, but were met at the closed door by a salesman who appeared rather agitated and “refused” to permit our entrance. As this was during regular business hours, and he was obviously in the building we interpreted this as rather gross, rude behavior. Passing back by the building later in the day we saw a now posted sign indicating that the building was closed by city inspectors because of structural damage related to the heavy snow/ice loading. Obviously we put all things together and appreciated the salesman’s “blockade.”

    I do hope all effort will be made to retain the façade and some fixtures in the new construction after demolition. The 1860’s vintage building was a large part of the charm of a J. Press visit–a charm perhaps only somewhat shared by the Cambridge (MA) location. I know all this is indeed somewhat heartbreaking for you, Richard. Again thanks for you thoughts and historical perspectives.

  3. SartoriallyCavalier | December 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm |

    I noticed the closing when I was back for the Game this year. Made me sad.

  4. I was in NH in early December & looked sadly at the old store with its scaffolding, then visited the temporary store on College Street where the manager said the new store would be ready in approx 2 years but I thought, hoped. old store would be rebuilt not torn down. Thanks to Richard Press for another interesting article.

  5. End of an Era, I am sure. I loved the old Press building, and spent many happy (and wallet-emptying) hours in its rather fusty interior over the years, with a high concentration when an undergraduate at Yale residing in the contiguous Davenport College, which was a dangerous proposition, indeed!

    I hope what they replace it with will be an improvement on the horror of their modern Lexington Aveneue store location. Fortunately “they” seem to have got the message on that one, and are moving to more salubrious (and one hopes appropriate) quarters in Manhattan in the New Year.

    All the appropriate Seasons Greetings to you and yours, dear Mr. Press — Reggie

  6. @Billax Thanks for sharing those with our readers.

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