Skip to content

The City of Paris Dry Goods Company was founded in 1850 by brothers Felix and Emile Verdier who had previously owned a silk-stocking manufacturer in Paris, France. Emile arrived in the San Francisco harbor on a chartered ship named the Ville de Paris (City of Paris) loaded with luxury merchandise including silks, laces, and fine wines and liqueurs. They had planned to open a store immediately, but San Franciscans surrounded the ships with rowboats and purchased all the goods before they could make it to the loading dock. As this was the height of the California Gold Rush, many purchases were reportedly made with bags of gold dust. Emile Verdier quickly returned to France to re-stock his ship, arriving back in San Francisco in 1851 to open the first Ville de Paris store at the southeast corner of Sutter and Kearny. In l860 operations were moved into the fashionable Occidental Hotel, on the corner of Montgomery and Sutter. 

By 1890, Felix’s son Gaston had joined the company and became its President. He chose the final site of the store, at Geary and Stockton on Union Square, and Americanized the name to City of Paris, adding the motto from the original ship, “Fluctuat nec Mergitur” (Floats but Never Sinks).

Gaston’s son Paul joined the City of Paris staff in 1901 at age 19, managing the store from 1903 until shortly before his death in 1966. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, he moved all the merchandise into the Hobart mansion on Van Ness at Washington. Paul left briefly to fight for France in World War 1, returning to San Francisco as a decorated war hero. He was named President of the company at age 23.

In 1907 the final and best-known of the City of Paris stores was rebuilt at Geary and Stockton streets on Union Square. A Beaux-Arts building designed by architect Clinton Day, it was a much-beloved symbol of the city, as it was its earliest department store and one of the few buildings downtown that had survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. In 1918, an additional block was added to the property on the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell.

The City of Paris expanded into the suburbs, operating a handful of branch stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, but all were closed by 1972, when the Verdier family decided to end the business due to a downturn in revenue. The store building was purchased by Liberty House and reopened as Liberty House at the City of Paris. When Liberty House built a new store at Stockton and O’Farrell streets, it closed the City of Paris building in 1974, selling it to Neiman Marcus. Joseph Magnin operated its clearance center called Magnarama, on the first floor, from 1974–1977.

In 1979, Neiman Marcus announced plans to demolish the City of Paris building in order to build a flagship store of its own. Thus began a contentious six-year preservation battle. In 1981, even with enormous public support and landmark status at the City, State and National levels, only the store’s elaborate stained glass rotunda dome managed to escape the wrecking ball.

Written by Ranch Queen Vintage

from an 1870s-1880s beaded evening cape  - Courtesy of Tbonita Style

from an 1870s-1880s beaded evening cape

Courtesy of Tbonita Style

from a 1940s dress  - Courtesy of Victory Vintage

from a 1940s dress

Courtesy of Victory Vintage

from a 1950s swing coat  - Courtesy of Redefinery

from a 1950s swing coat

Courtesy of Redefinery