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Woodward & Lothrop was a department store chain headquartered in Washington, D.C.marker Woodward & Lothrop was Washington, D.C.'s first department store, opening in 1887. Woodies, as it was often nicknamed, maintained stores in the Mid-Atlantic United States. Its flagship store was a fixture of the shopping district in downtown Washington, with Garfinckel'smarker, and in the late 1990s the center of controversy over competing visions for DC's urban renewal.


Samuel Walter Woodward (1848-August 2, 1917) and Alvin Mason Lothrop (1847-1912) opened a dry goods store in Chelsea, Massachusettsmarker, in 1873, and maintained several stores in the Bostonmarker area. In partnership with Charles E. Cochrane, on February 8, 1880 they moved to Washington.[158229] For many years, their department store would sponsor a "Founders Day Sale" in early February to commemorate the move.

Woodward, Lothrop & Cochrane opened at 705 Market Space at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenuemarker and 7th Street Northwest (now the United States Navy Memorialmarker). The first store was so successful that within a year, they moved to a larger location at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue. After flooding in 1886, they moved again to the corner of 11th and F Streets NW. Woodward and Lothrop purchased Cochrane's share of the partnership, and the new store renamed Woodward & Lothrop.[158230]

Woodies expanded into suburban shopping malls after World War II, but the owning families resisted expansion by amalgamation, and the chain grew slowly. It became a target of takeover attempts in the 1980s, resisting a leveraged buyout by Ronald Baron in February 1984 but accepting a $277 million bid later that year from Detroitmarker shopping center mogul A. Alfred Taubman.
But Taubman had incurred substantial debt during his '80s acquisitions, which included the Philadelphiamarker-based Wanamaker'smarker department stores in 1986 as well as Sotheby's auction house and various properties. The early 1990s recession, while historically mild, disproportionately impacted real estate and department store retail. The greater Washington area was also affected by sharp reductions in defense spending after the end of the Cold War, leading to a loss of consumer confidence.

Woodward & Lothrop, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 18, 1994, with $608 million in total assets and $659 in total liabilities. Drastic cost-cutting and increased sales figures did not return the firm to profitability, however, and the chain, including its John Wanamaker subsidiary, was liquidated. On June 21, 1995, seven of the remaining Woodward & Lothrop locations were sold to J. C. Penney and the rest plus the Wanamaker'smarker locations were sold to the May Department Stores, which converted them to its Hecht's and Lord & Taylor divisions. By November 1995, all Woodies stores had completed liquidation sales and were permanently closed. Woodies' flagship downtown Washington, D.C., store was shuttered. The Woodward & Lothrop and John Wanamaker nameplates went into the dustbin of history although their legends live on.

Flagship store

Soon after moving into the historic Carlisle building in 1887, W&L outgrew its space and began expanding, purchasing the neighboring properties. By 1897 it occupied almost the entire block surrounded by 10th, 11th, F, and G Streets NW. In 1898 and 1902, the buildings were renovated behind a new facade facing G Street designed by Henry Ives Cobb. Two additional floors were added in 1912 and 1913, and yet another building added in 1925.

The building attained its lasting form in 1927. It stands ten stories and once held over of retail space; the exterior was decorated in cast iron and leaded glass accents with flower designs and the Woodward & Lothrop monogram. It was declared a D.C. Historic Landmark in 1964.

After the chain's liquidation, the store stood empty while developers and city officials debated its future. The city first lobbied to have the location reopened as a Macy's, but Macy's owner, Federated Department Stores (now Macy's Inc), demurred; the space was too large, in need of renovation, and situated in downtown Washington, where shopping had declined relative to the suburbs. Finally, the Washington National Opera purchased the building in 1996 for $18 million, seeking to have it renovated into its new home.

Unfortunately, the cost of converting the retail space into an opera house proved daunting: $200 million. It remained empty until 1999 when it was sold to developer Douglas Jemal for $28.2 million. Neighborhood activists wanted Jemal to convert the building for mixed use, including arts space, restaurants, and housing as well as retail, but Jemal sought to use it for mixed office and commercial space instead. The District of Columbia Zoning Commission declined Jemal's proposal, and the building remained empty for two more years.

Finally in 2001, the Commission approved the retail-office plan (on the condition Jemal build housing at another site), and renovation got underway. The building reopened after almost a decade in 2003. Swedishmarker clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) was the first major tenant.
Woodward & Lothrop's old flagship store in 2008
On January 29, 2004, a fire struck the building. Just before 10pm, firefighters responded to visible heavy fire on the 10th Street side. After twenty minutes, most of the fire was knocked down; the cause of the fire was found to be accidental, probably caused by a baseboard space heater. This fire did not affect H&M.

On August 21, 2007, furniture and housewares retailer West Elm opened in the building. Also in 2007, the D.C. branch of Madame Tussaudsmarker wax museum opened in the building and a three-floor Zara also opened in the building.

Besides the downtown Washington store, the old Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehousemarker at 131 M Street, Northeast was also declared a D.C. Historic Landmark in 1993. It's an example of Streamline Moderne architecture and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. The building is visible from the platform of the New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet Umarker station of the Washington Metromarker, and its pink neon sign by passengers on trains along that right of way.

Woodies in the community

Both Woodward and Lothrop became active in civic life. Woodward, for instance, became president of the Washington City YMCA in 1898, and donated significant sums of money for the renovation of its facilities. In addition, Woodward's daughter and heir, Helen, and her husband Luke Ingalls Wilson later donated the bulk of the acreage of their Bethesda estate for the formation of the National Institutes of Healthmarker. After Wilson's death from cancer, Helen was instrumental in the creation of the National Cancer Institute. The store they founded itself became a fixture. In the 1920s it boasted at least 67 retail departments, as well as a travel agency, theater, infirmary, merry-go-round, and traveling art exhibits. According to one customer, Woodies was truly part of the social fabric; part department store, restaurant, and showcase for talent shows. Proper young ladies from schools like Bryn Mawr, Stevens, Vassar, Radcliffe, Mt.marker Holyokemarker would troop into Woodies for their spring and summer frocks to wear at weekend dances.

The W&L toy department introduced two phenomena to the American public. Harold and John Porter, who comprised the Porter Chemical Company of Hagerstown, Marylandmarker, began manufacturing chemistry sets in 1916. Woodward & Lothrop became the first major retailer to offer them for sale, and "Chemcraft" kits soon appeared at other retailers in the country. In the 1950s, the wife of a Woodies buyer saw a demonstration of Play-Doh modeling clay at an educational convention. This led to a successful in-store demo, and the sale of Play-Doh in Woodies' stores, and soon in toy departments throughout the United States.

A long time Woodies attraction was the elaborate animated window display unveiled every Christmas. The display stretched along F Street, and each window held one "chapter" of a story. No Christmas was complete for many children without a trip downtown to see the windows and visit with Santa Claus.

The Woodies display department continues the Woodies tradition of providing help and support for the community. Every year, members of the display department gather to decorate the annual Vince Lombardi Cancer Center fund raising gala held on behalf of the Georgetown Universitymarker Lombardi Cancer Center.

It is significant to note that President David Mullen had the foresight to understand the value of computer technology and its ability to streamline work processes, including stock ordering and internal communication. In 1984, W&L initiated one of the first inter-corporation email system in the country and soon developed electronic ordering capabilities. It is interesting and important to note that while W&L suffered from the loss of native customers and was hindered by the enormous debt assumed by the Taubman Group, it continued to develop computer systems that enhanced the company's ability to compete. However, the financial situation created by the Taubman Group was not to be overcome. The May Company purchased the most significant portion of the W&L and John Wanamaker organizations. The May Company, while large and, at the time, financially viable, did not have the computing capabilities that W&L had and the May Company abandoned W&L's computing capabilities. This computing abandonment did not serve May Company well as it strived to move into the 21st century and failed. David Mullen was ahead of his time in understanding and appreciating the world of electronic ordering and communication. He was a leader with great foresight into the needs of the company as it strived to support itself through technology. He ensured that technology was an integral part of the W&L operating systems and part of the overall internal culture. It is unfortunate that Mr. Mullen never received recognition for this technological advancements. W&L was way ahead of its time when it came to implementing computer technology.


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