In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, downtown Cleveland’s department stores competed to be known as the utmost authority on women’s fashion trends — holding regular luncheon fashion shows in their auditoriums to exhibit their collections and attract shoppers.
Dixie Lee Davis, who served as fashion director during that period for Halle’s department store, and later May Company and Cleveland Saks Fifth Avenue, remembers the era well. “My whole career has been in in retail,” she says, adding that the department stores were all on friendly terms with each other back then.
While the fashion shows, not to mention many of the major department stores, are a concept of the past, the spaces of these magnificent shopping meccas still exist, and many have been converted to offices and residential units.
French Imports Designer Show at Higbee's in 1958
The 192-foot-tall, 13-story 1931 Higbee Building at 100 Public Square is one such historical edifice. Today it is home to Jack Casino on the lower floors and offices such as Quicken Loans on the fourth and fifth floors.
The latter received much acclaim for its move to the space and subsequent remodel back in 2016 when the company brought in Detroit-based design firm dPOP to embrace the historical architecture and design elements of the former department store, while also creating a modern work environment.
Now, Terry Coyne, vice chairman for commercial real estate for Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, is hoping the right tenant will follow suit with the 10th floor of the Higbee Building.
More than 50,000 square feet on the entire 10th floor — except for the former Silver Grille, which is leased by the Ritz-Carlton hotel — in what used to be used for Higbee’s regular fashion shows, is currently available.
Long-time locals may remember the impressive space from the three-decade-span when Higbee’s would regularly hold fashion shows — complete with luncheons — to tout its newest collections.
The amazing staircase in the offices of Quicken Loans in the Higbee Building
“When you went down to Higbee’s in the 1950s, you went up to the 10th floor,” explains Coyne. “This is where they had runway shows, and there’s a rotunda that goes all the way up to the 11th floor. Women would wear their white gloves.”
Davis says the auditoriums that housed the shows — several times a year for back-to-school, bridal, seasonal and trunk shows — were the best way for shoppers to view the latest fashion trends.
“The fashion shows were very popular and well-attended events,” she recalls. “It could be a social event, but people wanted to know what the latest in fashion was. There was lots of fashion activity going on at the time and we were bringing the latest in fashion to Cleveland. All the top designers on both sides of the ocean were represented here.”
The raw space — 52,848 square feet — is wide open and in great shape, Coyne says. “They really kept the integrity of the building,” he says of the building owner, an affiliate of JACK Entertainment. “The ceilings are 14 feet, all the way up to 35 feet in the rotunda area.”
The windows overlook the newly renovated Public Square. “It is a great view on the heartbeat of the city,” adds Coyne.
View of Public Square from the 10th floor of the Higbee Bldg.
Davis remembers the old Higbee auditorium well. “It’s a beautiful, large auditorium,” she says. “It had a beautiful stage and wonderful lighting with a runway out to the audience.”
The space, which is going for $18.50 per square foot, is not for just any kind of tenant, notes Coyne. Instead, he says he hopes the new tenant, perhaps a technology company, will embrace the space in much the same manor that Quicken Loans did, but also perhaps with a nod to the time when ladies in white gloves enjoyed catered luncheons before taking in a fashion show.
“We’d like a tenant to embrace what Quicken Loans has done,” he says. “It’s really neat that they’ve embraced the era.”
The original chandeliers await restoration in storage at the Higbee bldg.
Some of the vintage décor, signage and Higbee’s paraphernalia Coyne may offer to tenants are tucked away in storage on an unused floor of the building.
“The perfect tenant is one who can utilize the high ceilings in the interesting potential layout for the space,” says Coyne. “This is not going to be space from the 1990s. It is open, high ceilings, with interesting opportunities for design.”
Interested tenants can contact Coyne or the primary leasing agent and NGKF managing director David Hollister or Kristy Hull.