Lost Lauderdale: Burdine's

With extensive interior design work by Eleanor LeMaire, the 195,000 square foot Burdine's merited a visit by Modernist photographer Ezra Stoller in 1948.

Lost Lauderdale: Burdine's

Text John O'Connor

In Fort Lauderdale, urban archeology is all about carefully uncovering the layers. What you see, in some cases, may be deceiving, as Fort Lauderdale is a place where buildings seem to be erased from the urban fabric about as quickly as chalk is erased from a blackboard.

Case in point: the Broward County Government Center on Andrews Avenue. This fluorescent-lit dungeon where homeowners can pay their property tax bills in person was once a sparkling showplace of American consumerism, a 195,000 square foot Burdine's department store. It was designed and built by Abbott, Merkt and Company, who were best known for their design of structures with complex functions, like department stores for Saks and Company, B. Altman, and H.H. Macy's as well as airline terminals for Pan Am at Idlewild, (later JFK) and terminal B at Newark International Airport.

The sleek, International Style building had just a touch of the curving lines seen in the Streamline Moderne style that preceded it by a few years, and a style similar to Burdine's other two branch stores of that era, both designed by Weed, Russell, Johnson & Associates. But what truly set this building apart was what lay inside. A 195,000 square foot emporium (according to records from the Department Store Museum... Yes, there is such a thing) designed by Eleanor Le Maire, a prolific, New York based interior designer who had made quite a name for herself with projects ranging from Bullock's Wilshire in Los Angeles to Neiman Marcus' flagship Dallas store in 1940.

While the Fort Lauderdale store had been in the planning stages since 1944, full-scale construction did not begin until the end of WWII. The interiors of this Burdine's branch were breathtakingly spacious, as seen in numerous photographs taken by famed architectural photographer Ezra Stoller in 1948. These included of course, fine ladies apparel, shoe boutiques and of course Burdine's famous Hibiscus Tea Room, for the ladies who lunch. Le Maire was responsible for design of all three shopping levels, but the task was just another job in the life of the woman who would be asked to design interiors as varied as the Studebaker automobile, Miami's New Yorker Hotel and the Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Le Maire would go on to design the interiors for Neiman Marcus' Bal Harbour shop years later.

When Burdine's succumbed to mall mania in 1980, moving from their downtown location to The Galleria, the giant building on North Andrews Avenue was sold to the County and subsequently stripped and redesigned for its current, less glamorous life of bureaucratic use.

JOHN T. O'CONNOR, Editor-In-Chief

JOHN SPEAR, Associate Publisher

HILARY A. LEWIS, Senior Editor

JILLIAN WHITAKER, Associate Editor

SUE NEIDUSKI, Operations Manager

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