Peculiar Pittsburgh

14 photos of Pittsburgh’s iconic Kaufmann’s building from 1886 to 2018

Hop into our time machine.

MSS_371_KaufmannStorePhotographs_i03_c1950s
Courtesy of Heinz History Center
Rossilynne Culgan

Over the years, Pittsburghers have called it the Grand Depot, The Big Store, Kaufmann’s, Macy’s and now Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth.

But no matter the name, the behemoth building along Smithfield Street has been a special place for more than a century — to “meet under the Kafumann’s clock,” to eat thumbprint cookies at the store’s Arcade Bakery, to admire its ornate holiday window displays, and, of course, to shop its 13 floors.

With brick-and-mortar retail floundering, the Downtown department store closed in 2015. The building is now undergoing renovation to be turned into luxury apartments, a restaurant, and a hotel, and though the work has been delayed, as the Post-Gazette reports, it’s still expected to open this summer or fall.

The change is making us nostalgic, so we compiled snapshots of Kafumann’s through the years, dating back to the very beginning, with help from Heinz History Center. Let’s hop into the time machine.

1880s: An artist’s rendition of the “Grand Depot.” The building opened in 1886, occupying an entire city block along Smithfield and between Fifth and Diamond. The store was then known and advertised as both the “Grand Depot” and J. Kaufmann and Brothers — note the flags atop the store.

An artist's rendition of the "Grand Depot." The building opened in 1886 and occupied an entire city block along Smithfield and between Fifth and Diamond. (The store was then known and advertised as both the “Grand Depot” and J. Kaufmann and Brothers.)
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1905-1910: Carriages, pedestrians, a street car, and even an early automobile crowd the street in front of Kaufmann’s.

In this 1890s-era photo, street cars, carriages, and pedestrians crowd the street in front of Kaufmann's.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

July 19, 1913: A bustling street scene in front of Kaufmann’s exactly two years after Pittsburgh got the ‘h’ back in its name.

A bustling street scene in front of Kaufmann's on July 19, 1913 — exactly two years after Pittsburgh got the 'h' back in its name.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1925-1930: An early holiday window display.

1925-1930: An early holiday window display.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1940s: A crowd in front of Kaufmann’s. Across the street, Hotel Henry and the Rathskeller.

A crowd in front of Kaufmann's in the 1940s.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1940s: An exterior shot of the mammoth building.

An exterior shot, dated 1940s.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1944: This cutaway drawing features images of Kaufmann’s shoppers picking out suits and perusing the jewelry counter.

Cutaway 1944
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1950s: The Kafumann’s clock has remained a beacon atop Smithfield street for decades.

The Kafumann's clock in the 1950s.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1960-1965: As the sign says, “Santa’s workshop job is done; he’s made toys for everyone!”

1960-1965: "Santa's workshop job is done; he's made toys for everyone!"
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1980s-1990s: A trip to Kaufmann’s in December was like a trip to the North Pole.

1980s-1990s: A trip to Kaufmann's in December was like a trip to the North Pole.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1980s-1990s: Kaufmann’s windows dressed up for the holidays.

1980s-1990s: Kaufmann's windows dressed up for the holidays.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

1980s-1990s: The holiday windows took on a Cinderella theme one year.

1980s-1990s: The holiday windows took on a Cinderella theme one year.
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

2013: At some point, the clock’s arms changed from the minimalist 1950s look to an ornate design.

For a century, the Kaufmann's clock has remained a Pittsburgh icon.
David Brossard / Flickr

2015: As the store prepared to close, mannequins served as sentries watching over bargain shoppers.

In 2015, mannequins watch over the store's closing sale.
daveynin / Flickr

2018: Here’s what’s planned for the site now.