From ambitious beginnings ...
The four original brothers and their wives. Courtesy Senator John Heinz History Center
Kaufmann's circa 1913. Post-Gazette Archives
to a local landmark ...
The Desert House. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Trust
to glamour and philanthropy ...
Post-Gazette Archives
By Marylynne Pitz
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Family tree
Chapter 1
Businessmen and Benefactors

This holiday season, Downtown shoppers cannot stream into Kaufmann’s to buy presents. Just a few animated figures remain in some large windows while the display cases on Smithfield Street stand empty.

After a 144-year run, the landmark that dominated a Downtown block shut its doors under the Macy’s flag in September. Kaufmann’s was the last store standing in a parade of retailers that left town, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Horne’s, Gimbels, Lazarus and Lord & Taylor, with the last two sticking around for a few minutes, or so it seemed.

The first Kaufmann brother to leave Germany, Jacob Kaufmann landed at Castle Garden, the official entrance point at the time for immigrants arriving in New York State. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The four Kaufmann brothers who founded and expanded this cherished Pittsburgh institution not only shaped the development of the city’s Golden Triangle but left a legacy of philanthropy, civic leadership, cultural innovation and architectural triumph.

They began carving their path to prosperity in Germany as the sons of Abraham and Sarah Wolf Kaufmann.

The family lived on a farm in southwest Germany where Abraham enjoyed a monopoly on the cattle trade. He is described as “healthy, very enduring, hot-headed and energetic,” according to a family history prepared by Alfred Kaufmann of Santa Rosa, Calif., a nephew of the department store founders.

Abraham offered the invaluable advice on which Jacob, Isaac, Morris and Henry Kaufmann built a business, a fortune and charitable gifts that still make Pittsburgh a better place today.

“Sell to others as you would buy for yourself. Good merchants make small profits and many sales. Deal fairly; be patient and in time your dishonest competitors will crowd your store with customers,” Abraham told his sons.

Like many Jewish immigrants, the Kaufmann brothers saved and sweated their way to success. Privately, they experienced profound sorrow because three Kaufmann women died by their own hand.

Jacob Kaufmann probably resembled this peddler, selling his wares at about the same time in Washington County, Pa. From Caldwell's Illustrated Combination Centennial Atlas of Washington Co. Pennsylvania, 1876. Courtesy of Marylynne Pitz

The four brothers spent $1,500 to start their store, Isaac recalled, but they were “millionaires in hope and confidence.”

Buoyed by youth, Jacob landed at Castle Garden in New York City’s bustling harbor on May 12, 1868. At age 18, he began peddling buttons, thread, cloth and ribbon from a knapsack, stopping at farms and villages southeast of Pittsburgh in the Youghiogheny River Valley and lodging with local Jewish families. He saved enough money to send for his brother Isaac.

In May of 1869, Isaac was 17 when he left his native Rhineland village of Viernheim, sailed for America and joined Jacob in selling their wares as far south as the coal fields of Connellsville. They found customers in Braddock, Brownsville, Clairton, Donora, Greensburg, Jeannette, Johnstown, Latrobe, Mt. Pleasant and as far north as Oil City.

By 1871, the duo opened a tailor shop at 1918 Carson St. on the South Side, where they sold clothing to iron workers and puddlers employed at the Jones & Laughlin hot rolling mill or at the Eliza Furnace.

Two younger brothers, Morris and Henry, immigrated in 1872. As the night watchman, Morris often slept above the South Side store. Five years later, J. Kaufmann & Brothers moved to Smithfield Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. A picture of the store in 1879 shows signage that read: Kaufmann’s, Cheapest Corner Reliable One Price Clothing House Men’s Boys’ & Children’s Clothing.”

This advertisement echoes the 1879 signage on the store. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

In 1885, Kaufmann Brothers built a new structure at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street, the corner where generations of Pittsburghers have met under a gilded clock. Before the time keeper with a fancy face was installed, the brothers erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty bearing a torch blazing with natural gas. Eventually, their 12-story building had 700,000 square feet of space.

Their Downtown location was convenient and their timing fortuitous. In the 1880s and 1890s, aluminum, coal, glass, oil, steel, shipping and tin fueled Pittsburgh’s roaring industrial economy. Every Saturday,100,000 mill workers, flush with a week’s pay, took street cars to Downtown, many heading to Kaufmann’s.

Prosperity prompted Jacob and his wife, Augusta Katz Kaufmann, to buy a Richardsonian Romanesque style townhouse at 913 Brighton Road on the city’s North Side in 1890. Located in Allegheny City’s Millionaire’s Row, the home still stands and features ornamental wooden fretwork. By the time Jacob died in 1905, he and his family lived in Squirrel Hill. His widow pursued an unsuccessful lawsuit against her three brothers-in-law, claiming they offered too little money for her late husband’s share of the department store.

In 1910, her sons found another line of work by establishing the Kaufmann Realty Co. Raymond, Alfred, Edwin, Karl and Chester Kaufmann bought, sold, leased and managed property and ran their business from a Downtown building.

The original four Kaufmann brothers and their wives, immigrants from Viernheim, Germany, circa 1890. Left to right: Jacob and Augusta; Henry and Theresa; Morris and Betty; Isaac and Emma. Courtesy Senator John Heinz History Center
Jacob Kaufmann, the oldest and first Kaufmann brother in America, started the Kaufmann peddling business. Upon his death, his heirs sued the rest of the family. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Isaac Kaufmann married his first cousin Emma, the namesake for the Emma Kaufmann Camp. Their only child, Lillian (later spelled Liliane), married her first cousin, Edgar Jonas Kaufmann. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Jacob and Isaac photographed probably shortly after their arrival in the United States, circa 1871. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Morris Kaufmann, whose son Edgar made the Kaufmann name synonymous with art, architecture and ambitious civic projects. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Morris' wife, the former Betty Wolf, was born in Funkstadt, Germany, where Morris went to marry her. After Morris died in 1917, Betty ''took personal interest in practically all of Pittsburgh's leading charities, in addition to maintaining a long list of private charitable enterprises,'' according to her obituary in the Post-Gazette, Sept. 23, 1942. Post-Gazette
Henry Kaufmann, whose only child died at 19, donated to many causes linked to bettering children's lives and was known locally as ''Uncle Henry.'' Pittsburgh Press

To most of the public, the family name stayed synonymous with merchandising. Six years before his death at age 70 in 1921, Isaac recalled the store’s beginnings in a letter published in a local newspaper in 1915.

“How ridiculous I would have considered the idea that the day would come when we would have 4,000 employees, and a store in which one could buy anything from a paper of pins to a diamond necklace — from a necktie to the complete furnishing of any kind of home — that we would spend as much in a single day for newspaper advertising as the sum total of our capital,” he wrote.

Like any entrepreneur, Isaac tackled many tasks.

“I was the head of the firm and the bookkeeper, salesman and shipping clerk, bundle wrapper and occasionally the delivery system. And I am not ashamed to acknowledge that I put up the shutters and swept the floors,” he wrote.

Grand Depot

Before the Kaufmann's clock was built, Lady Liberty (upper left) was the focal point of the "Grand Depot" store, Smithfield Street from Forbes to Fifth Avenue. This photo is from the 1880s. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

Grand Depot

Before the Kaufmann's clock was built, Lady Liberty (upper left) was the focal point of the "Grand Depot" store, Smithfield Street from Forbes to Fifth Avenue. This photo is from the 1880s. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

Chapter 2
Art, culture and style at the Grand Depot

Kaufmann’s department store offered customers artfully designed spaces where merchandise was carefully arranged and sold with a personal touch. During its reign as a temple of commerce, the Downtown store evolved from a place that offered cheap goods to one that emphasized stylish clothing, high-end art and finely designed modern furniture.

Today, cosmetics companies regularly offer “free” gifts with a purchase, but Kaufmann’s was doing that in 1877. You could buy a suit and receive a free pair of suspenders or purchase a boy’s overcoat and get a free photo album.

Then industries boomed, jobs grew plentiful and Pittsburgh expanded from a frontier settlement into a city criss-crossed by streetcars that carried thousands of shoppers to Kaufmann’s.

By 1885, the store occupied the block on Smithfield Street from Forbes to Fifth Avenue and employed a sales force of 75. A hydraulic elevator carried customers to various floors while electric lights illuminated the building in an era when many people still used gas light.

Nineteenth century advertising:

A page from the Kaufmann's catalog showing women's clothing, circa 1880s. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
An undated listing of the store's departments, including corsets, ribbons and boys' waists. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Boys' clothing from the Kaufmann's catalog, 1895-1896. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

As its customer base grew, the store added women’s apparel and lingerie in 1886 and hired its first female clerk. Male employees who sold clothing also did two-hour shifts where they turned a crank that displayed a window mannequin. Eventually, dressing mannequins and designing themed displays with outdoor banners became an essential marketing tool, and the creative people who designed those displays made up an entire department.

Kaufmann’s “helped make Pittsburgh a big city. It was better and more complete than it needed to be,” said Michael Lisicky, a Baltimore-based author of seven books about various department stores.

Women who shopped at Kaufmann’s, he added, aspired to climb higher on social and economic ladders.

“That’s why sales were so important. You could get that more expensive coat or dress. No one knew if you paid full retail or got it on an amazing closeout,” Mr. Lisicky said.

Whatever it cost to improve the store, Edgar Jonas Kaufmann, son of founder Morris Kaufmann, was usually willing to pay it. Called “E.J.,” he expanded the business in 1913, the year some of his cousins left the store because they were not offered an ownership interest. Led by Morris Baer, one of seven Kaufmann cousins, they established Kaufmann & Baer two blocks away in a terra-cotta covered building that later became Gimbels.

Pictured is the rival department store run by Kaufmann cousins, Kaufmann & Baer. Today, the building is called the Heinz 57 Center. Post-Gazette Archives

To avoid an ownership battle, Henry and Morris Kaufmann asked E.J. to take over the business. E. J. competed with his cousins by hiring Benno Janssen, architect to Pittsburgh’s high society, to design a fancy addition that opened in 1914. Ambitious and energetic, E.J. had watched his father and uncles oversee the construction of the store, a visual lesson that showed him how architecture could be a powerful form of advertising.

E.J. also strove to upgrade the quality of merchandise.

In a speech to employees in 1921, he recalled working as a floor man in the toys and sporting goods section, which was near the store’s grocery. “In those days we were the popular-priced store. It was Kaufmann’s that had the cheapest merchandise. It was Kaufmann’s that carried inferior and cheap brands,” he said.

With his stylish wife, Liliane, he transformed the Downtown store into a showcase of fine art, antiques and high-fashion clothing gathered from 27 buying offices the company maintained around the world. Kaufmann’s regularly sent buyers to Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Lyon, Florence and Vienna.

Nor did they stop at European borders. A company newsletter called The Storagram noted a dizzying list of cities visited by the buyer M.E. Lautman, who specialized in Asian merchandise. On a two-month trip, he traveled to Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines and India.

The 1930 remodeling featured curved counters, partly visible here, black carrara marble and commissioned murals. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
This detail shows the engraved glass decorations in the remodeled store. From the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, 1930, courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Cutting-edge metallurgical engineering was used to create architectural touches in railings, display cases and here, elevator doors. From the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, 1930, courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

As part of a lavish remodeling, E.J.commissioned Boardman Robinson in 1929 to create murals on the history of trade and installed the panels on the store’s first floor. When the work was finished in 1930, black carrara-clad pillars and glass sconces lent the store an art deco elegance. Retailing experts and architecture critics called it the most beautiful store in the world.

The Boardman Robinson murals:

''The Persians and the Arabs – Before the Christian Era'': The Arabs established caravan routes between Asia and Egypt. Silks, gold, spices, wines and precious stones were the cargoes for their ships and the burdens of their camels. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, FA 1993.16.1
''The Carthaginians on the Mediterranean – Dawn of the Christian Era'': The Carthaginians demonstrated that long-distance sea trade could be immensely profitable. Their coastal trading towns drew rich materials from tribes far from the sea in Africa, Asia Minor and Europe. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1993.16.2
''The Portuguese in India – The Fifteenth Century'': Portugal established trade by sea with India in 1498, when Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa. In 1522 Magellan's expedition, which had set sail from Spain three years before, completed the first voyage around the world. Pope Alexander VI then assigned all Africa and Asia to the Portuguese. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1993.16.4
''The Dutch in the Baltic – The Sixteenth Century'': When the commerce of Portugal and of Spain began to decline, the Dutch traders were quick to take the opportunities offered to them. Most of the wool and wine exported from Spain was carried to the Baltic on Dutch vessels, which returned from Russia and Germany with rich cargoes. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1996.16.5
''The English in China – The Seventeenth Century'': The trade of the British East India Company reached to the shores of China. It was made possible by the English government's far-sighted support for sea-going traffic, which established the foundation for England's domination of world trade. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1996.16.6
''Slave Traders in America – The Eighteenth Century'': The African slave trade was enormously profitable in the eighteenth century. A slave could be purchased for $50 and sold in America for $1,500. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1993.16.7
''The Clipper Ships – First Half of the Nineteenth Century'': The period of national expansion following the close of the war of 1812 also witnessed the growth of an extremely efficient American merchant marine. The era marks the closing years of the ship with sail. Already, the steamship had appeared on the seas. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1996.12.1
''American Internal Trade – Late Nineteenth Century'': This image shows the river trade of the Mississippi during the period after the Civil War. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1996.12.2
''Trade and Commerce in the United States – The Twentieth Century'': Boardman Robinson sought to capture the enormous expansion of commercial activity in the twentieth century with this scene of a contemporary city being constructed. Collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center FA 1996.12.3

Besides a feast for the eyes, the store opened restaurants during the 1930s.

Kaufmann’s casual Tic Toc Restaurant plus its more formal tea room with white tablecloths encouraged shoppers to spend a day Downtown, said Jan Whitaker, a consumer historian from Northampton, Mass., and author of “Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class.’’

“The restaurants in department stores are the first things people mention. It might have been the first restaurant they went to, especially for children who would go there with family members around the holidays. It was a kind of formal occasion at which children were welcome. They had to be on their best behavior,” Ms. Whitaker said.

Such outings made an impression because, “People didn’t eat out as much in the middle of the 20th century. It would be a big occasion. The food was good usually in those restaurants and presented very nicely with silver, napkins and water glasses. It was not like eating at Woolworth’s lunch counter, which is where children otherwise might have been taken by their mothers,” Ms. Whitaker added.

On trips overseas, E.J. hunted talent, too. During a visit to Vienna in the 1920s, he met Laszlo Gabor, who became Kaufmann’s chief art designer in 1935.

When it came to merchandising, Liliane was her husband’s equal.

In 1933, she opened the Vendome Shops on Kaufmann’s 11th floor. The name was inspired by the Place Vendome in Paris, the location of the Ritz Hotel where she stayed on buying trips in the French capital. The Vendome Shops sold antiques, designer clothing, jewelry and museum quality Steuben glass.

An Elizabeth Arden beauty salon that opened at Kaufmann’s drew additional customers.

In 1934, Kaufmann’s exhibited the memorable paintings of Aaron Gorson, who captured the city’s fiery steel mills at night. Today, some of Gorson’s canvases are selling for $90,000 to $100,000.

Even after E.J. and Liliane died in the 1950s, the store retained its reputation for quality fashion. In 1969, Kaufmann’s became the first U.S. department store to open an Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique.

Some young people celebrated the Pittsburgh Pirates' come-from-behind 1971 World Series victory by climbing the Kaufmann's clock. Tony Kambic/Post-Gazette
Christmas shoppers flood Kaufmann's department store in 1991. Post-Gazette Archives
Mary Kelly of Swissvale took a close look at a Christmas season window display in 1987. Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Kaufmann's Christmas window displays
This 2010 holiday window display was part of a series about a town getting ready for Christmas. Courtesy of George Arnold and Laurence Scott
The 2009 holiday windows displays were themed on Santa's workshop. Courtesy of George Arnold and Laurence Scott
An animated Cinderella was the focus of another holiday window display. Courtesy of George Arnold and Laurence Scott

Kaufmann’s Downtown operated for 144 years — a decade under the Macy’s flag — until shutting its doors in September 2015. Its run outlasted many other department stores in the nation. Kaufmann’s merged with May Department Stores Co. of St. Louis in 1946, but E.J. remained president of the store. In 2005 Federated Department Stores bought May Co. for $11 billion.

After Macy’s took over, lifelong Pittsburghers still called it Kaufmann’s even after its cluttered sales floors and spotty service made it unworthy of the name.

E.J. and Liliane

E.J. Kaufmann took mistresses and fathered an illegitimate child. His wife Liliane died from an overdose of sleeping pills. Post-Gazette Archives

E.J. and Liliane

E.J. Kaufmann took mistresses and fathered an illegitimate child. His wife Liliane died from an overdose of sleeping pills. Post-Gazette Archives

Chapter 3
E.J. and Liliane

Edgar Jonas Kaufmann was a charming man who led a charmed life.

Born on the city’s North Side, E.J., as he was known, served as president of Kaufmann’s department store for 42 years. He was 20 when his family moved to a 22-room Squirrel Hill mansion with lawn tennis courts and a 250-capacity ballroom.

Portrait circa 1937 of Edgar Kaufmann in his Downtown Kaufmann's office, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It's now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Post-Gazette Archives
This informal dining area in Fallingwater includes a painting of Edgar by Austrian artist Victor Hammer. Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Edgar Kaufmann, who loved and collected cars, drives an early model automobile in this undated photo. Courtesy Senator John Heinz History Center
Portrait circa 1937 of Edgar Kaufmann in his Downtown Kaufmann's office, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It's now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Post-Gazette Archives
This informal dining area in Fallingwater includes a painting of Edgar by Austrian artist Victor Hammer. Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Edgar Kaufmann, who loved and collected cars, drives an early model automobile in this undated photo. Courtesy Senator John Heinz History Center

Dynamic and handsome, this prosperous businessman became a major player in Pittsburgh’s first renaissance, which began in the 1940s. He was among the founders of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a group of corporate executives that partnered with Mayor David Lawrence to clean up the city’s smoke-filled skies and create Mellon Square Park. A founder of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, E.J. gave $1 million toward construction of the Civic Arena. The silver-domed structure was built especially for the CLO performing arts group and opened in 1962.

The mansion at Murdoch and Beacon streets in Squirrel Hill in which E.J.'s family lived when he was 20. "Palmer's Pictorial Pittsburgh and Prominent Pittsburghers Past and Present 1758 1905"

Best known for commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to design Fallingwater in Fayette County, E.J. was an innovative retailer who used Kaufmann’s department store to exhibit the latest in fashion, first-rate art and well-designed modern furniture that is highly prized today.

E.J. was much more than a merchant prince. His drive to improve Pittsburgh and his interest in art, architecture and theater propelled him to the center of civic life, where he became a leader, taste maker and philanthropist. His politics made him a delegate to the 1952 Republican convention.

He enjoyed major advantages over his father and three uncles. He met Pittsburgh’s elite while a student at Shady Side Academy and spent one year at Yale’s Sheffield School.

“He was beloved,” said Barbara Burstin, author of “Steel City Jews in Prosperity, Depression and War.” “His cook loved him because he was such a generous man.”

Late in his life, E.J. told an interviewer: “I love my city, my country and my religion — in that order.”

He also favored eye-catching cars and beautiful women. When his dark eyes rested on his vivacious first cousin, Lillian, the fact that she would inherit shares in Kaufmann’s from her father, Isaac, made her even more appealing. He was 24 and she 20 when they wed in New York in 1909 because Pennsylvania prohibited marriage between first cousins.

By 1910, E.J. was running the department store, which had 3,000 employees. That same year, Lillian — now going by Liliane because she loved all things French — gave birth to their only child, Edgar Jr.

Liliane spoke fluent French and German as well as English. Her handwritten note at the bottom of this photo translates roughly as "Best regards, Liliane." Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
An undated portrait of the young Liliane. Post-Gazette Archives
Liliane in middle age, shown with beret. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Liliane as she appeared in her 1952 obituary. Post-Gazette Archives
Liliane spoke fluent French and German as well as English. Her handwritten note at the bottom of this photo translates roughly as "Best regards, Liliane." Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
An undated portrait of the young Liliane. Post-Gazette Archives
Liliane in middle age, shown with beret. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
Liliane as she appeared in her 1952 obituary. Post-Gazette Archives

E.J. and Liliane spent much of the 1920s living on seven wooded acres on Pasadena Drive in Fox Chapel, where they built an 18-room Norman-style chateau for $250,000. Named for the charming round tower at the home’s entrance, La Tourelle was designed by Benno Janssen, architect of Downtown’s now Omni William Penn Hotel, Longue Vue Club and Rolling Rock stables. The couple brought iron worker Samuel Yellin to make all the decorative hardware in a forge he set up in the living room fireplace.

E.J. and an unidentified woman rest atop his car at Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, circa 1930. On at least one occasion, the Kaufmanns and their guests watched the polo matches while eating a tailgate lunch of Cornish game hens, prepared by their cook, Elsie Henderson. Post-Gazette Archives

The Kaufmanns rode horses regularly and their Fox Chapel stud raised steeplechase horses that competed nationally. Adding to their exclusive hobbies, Liliane bred long-haired dachshunds and kept six as pets. She smoked Chesterfields, a cigarette later popularized in James Bond movies. Her preferred cocktail was a margarita.

By 1929, the couple were listed in Pittsburgh’s Blue Book, the local version of the Social Register.

Between 1934 and 1935, Edgar Jr. studied at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin estate and school for organic architecture. Through their son, E.J. and Liliane met the famous architect. Wright was a house guest at La Tourelle in 1934, where he discussed plans to build Fallingwater. That same year, Albert Einstein, a scientist and refugee from Nazi Germany, arrived in Pittsburgh to attend a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Einstein stayed with the Kaufmanns at La Tourelle. E.J., who spoke German, served as his interpreter.

Edgar Kaufmann (second from left) hosted Albert Einstein during his visit to Pittsburgh in December 1934. Here the famous scientist explains his new mass energy theorem to reporters. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

Not all of the publicity was positive; E.J.’s infidelity made headlines in 1933. Horne’s, the rival department store, sued him after he failed to pay for six platinum and diamond bracelets he had sent to his mistress Josephine Bennett Waxman. The scandal amused and shocked local newspaper readers.

Elsie Henderson, the Kaufmanns’ longtime cook who is now 102, told the authors of “The Fallingwater Cookbook” that E.J. “was the biggest playboy in Pittsburgh, make that the Western world.”

At least once, E.J. let his wife handle the consequences of his extramarital affairs. In 1928, he fathered an illegitimate daughter, Betty Jo Harris, whom he named for his mother. Liliane invited the teen-aged Betty Jo to Fallingwater, according to the late department store heir Leon Harris in his book, “Merchant Princes.” Liliane also insisted that her husband set up a trust fund for the girl even though his liaison with Lois Harris, the child’s mother and a former Kaufmann's clothing model, had ended.

Liliane showed her compassion in other ways as well. During World War I, she oversaw Red Cross work rooms where surgical dressings were prepared. An ardent supporter of Montefiore Hospital, she was the only woman to serve as president of its board. Her nine-year tenure, from 1934 to 1943, lasted longer than that of any other board president at the Jewish hospital. During World War II, when Pittsburgh hospitals were short of nurses, she was a regular volunteer at Montefiore, where the nursing school is named in her memory. She also volunteered at Mercy Hospital for a decade.

This image of the Kaufmanns at Fallingwater depicts a smiling Edgar Jr. (center) with E.J. (left) and Liliane. Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Fallingwater was finished in 1937 and the couple retreated there on weekends to escape the heat and smoke of industrial Pittsburgh. Liliane enjoyed swimming in the nude and collecting modern art, especially the works of Diego Rivera, who was a guest at the country house. Time magazine featured Frank Lloyd Wright on its cover in 1938.

E.J. and Liliane Kaufmann's homes:

Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann rented two homes in Squirrel Hill designed by Benno Janssen. Here is one, at 5423 Darlington St. Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette
The Kaufmanns also rented this Squirrel Hill home, designed by Benno Janssen, at 5625 Darlington St. Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette
Around 1924, Edgar and Liliane had Benno Janssen custom design this house for them, La Tourelle in Fox Chapel. The Kaufmanns lived in this 18-room Norman manor house when they commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build Fallingwater. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette
In 1946, the Kaufmanns commissioned cutting-edge architect Richard Neutra to design this Palm Springs Modern home for them in Palm Springs, Calif. Julius Shulman took this iconic photograph in 1947 of Liliane Kaufmann (left) posing beside the house, known as the Kaufmann Desert House. Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust
One of the benefits Kaufmann's employees enjoyed were annual summer visits to the Bear Run camp that E.J. Kaufmann owned in Fayette County. The clubhouse held about 50 people, and there were tennis courts, croquet, a swimming pool and no end of hiking on the 1,800 acres. This photo is believed to depict store employees enjoying the falls sometime in the 1920s. Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
This interior photo of Fallingwater shows how architect Frank Lloyd Wright melded the environment with the house. Post-Gazette Archives

The department store was not always depicted favorably. In 1948, K. Leroy Irvis, a former Pennsylvania legislator who at the time represented the local Urban League, led a boycott of Downtown Pittsburgh stores because they wouldn’t hire black women as sales clerks. Kaufmann’s hired blacks, usually as elevator operators.

After Liliane's death, E.J. married his nurse and mistress, Grace Stoops. She is shown here in the photo that ran in the newspaper to announce her marriage . Post-Gazette Archives

E. J. Kaufmann continued his civic leadership in the 1950s. With City Councilman Abe Wolk, he founded the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, promoted its talent and for years covered its $50,000 annual operating losses. Now the Pittsburgh CLO, it produces summer shows, honors high school musical performance with the Gene Kelly Awards and invests in new works.

The Kaufmanns’ public lives appeared glamorous partly because of the parade of celebrities who visited Fallingwater. But privately, Liliane suffered from depression and sought psychiatric help.

At Fallingwater in 1952, she fell unconscious after taking an overdose of Seconal, a barbiturate, washed down with alcohol. E.J. drove her to Mercy Hospital, 2½ hours away in Pittsburgh, where she died at age 63. The family received condolences in the couple’s William Penn Hotel suite. Grace Stoops, E.J.’s mistress and nurse at the time, attended. To memorialize his wife, E.J. paid for the Liliane S. Kaufmann wing at Montefiore Hospital.

E.J. married Stoops, but died seven months later in his sleep in April 1955. He was 69 and at his Palm Springs home in California. The second Mrs. Kaufmann challenged her prenuptial agreement in court; she wound up with the California property and several hundred thousand dollars. She later died in an apartment fire.

Edgar Jr. was not interested in running a department store. He became a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In his will, he left Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

E.J. and Liliane rest at Fallingwater in a mausoleum covered by bronze doors created by sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Edgar Jr.’s ashes are scattered on the grounds of Fallingwater.


E.J. Kaufmann commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design Fallingwater in 1935. The home is built over waterfalls on Bear Run in Fayette County. Post-Gazette Archives


E.J. Kaufmann commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design Fallingwater in 1935. The home is built over waterfalls on Bear Run in Fayette County. Post-Gazette Archives

Chapter 4
The Kaufmann Legacy

Their department store is shuttered and silent, but the Kaufmanns’ contributions are still visible when the Pittsburgh CLO performs, in public buildings such as Hill House Association and at the Jewish Community Centers in Squirrel Hill and Scott. Best known is the architectural jewel called Fallingwater in Fayette County.

Besides E.J.’s key role in founding the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Liliane’s leadership of Montefiore Hospital, another branch of the family invested heavily in promoting the health, education and welfare of Pittsburgh’s residents.

Of the four department store founders, Henry Kaufmann was the youngest and lived the longest; he died at age 94 in 1955. He is best remembered for giving away much of his $10 million fortune in Pittsburgh and New York. In today’s dollars, the fortune he acquired by selling his share in the department store would total more than $240 million.

His brothers — Jacob, Isaac and Morris — generously supported Jewish charities and the wider community. But Pittsburgh newspaper pages are filled with images of Henry celebrating his July 12 birthday by making a major donation to a local charity.

The ill-fated Irene Kaufmann died at 19. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center

Known affectionately as “Uncle Henry,” he appears in photographs wearing a suit and tie, round glasses and a serious expression. By 1940, the year he celebrated his 80th birthday, newspapers estimated he had given away $5.5 million, more than half of his $10 million fortune. Beneath his earnest appearance lay lasting grief born of two devastating losses — his wife and daughter died young.

Henry and Theresa Kaufmann’s only child, 19-year-old Irene, drank carbolic acid in 1907. Newspapers reported that Irene reached for headache medicine and, by mistake, drank the household disinfectant.

Additional research suggests the death was more tragic. Dorothy Blumenthal's family knew the Kaufmanns and, in a 1980 interview with Pittsburgh historian Barbara Burstin, said Irene’s parents had forbidden their daughter from marrying the family chauffeur, who was not Jewish, and that the death was a suicide. In the early 1900s, many people took their lives by drinking carbolic acid because it was readily available and often caused an agonizing death in 10 minutes.

To honor Irene’s memory, Henry and Theresa gave $150,000 for construction of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House on Centre Avenue in the Hill District. Begun in 1895 as the Columbian School and Settlement, the new building opened in 1909. The wide array of social services its staff offered improved the lives of more than 100,000 immigrants.

At the settlement house, nurses provided health care. Undernourished children were given milk while their mothers learned how to best care for infants and youngsters. There were free baths, classes in dancing, sewing, painting, music and literature. There were athletic competitions, plays, musicals and efforts to grow prodigious gardens. Over his lifetime, Henry gave $3 million to the settlement.

Laurence Lubisch recalled joining the settlement house in 1925 and was still living when its direct nonprofit descendant, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, marked its 100th anniversary in 1995.

“I don’t think I’d be alive if it weren’t for a place like this,” Mr. Lubisch told the authors of a centennial booklet published in 1995. “There were times in my life when there was nothing to eat but onions and bread. And there were times when there were only onions ... . I used to fight to be first in line at the milk well.”

The New York Times' account of Theresa Kaufmann's suicide was published April 27, 1916.

In 1913, Henry sold his shares in the department store for $10 million to his brother, Morris. Henry and Theresa moved to New York City, but traveled frequently to Europe and the German village where Henry had grown up.

Three years later, an account in The New York Times described Theresa as an invalid. The newspaper reported that in April 1916, she overheard her husband and doctors planning to have her treated at a psychiatric hospital. Though attended by two nurses, Theresa leaped to her death at 4 a.m. from the seventh floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Henry coped with his wife’s suicide in part by making charitable donations. When the settlement house celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding, he gave $250,000. In 1925, he gave the settlement house his share of a Downtown Pittsburgh property valued at $750,000.

Henry’s contributions were far-reaching. A nephew, Alfred Kaufmann, immigrated from Germany to America in 1922 because of Henry’s help. Alfred spent three years in California before moving to what was then called Palestine where Henry helped him finance the establishment of citrus groves.

Henry established the Henry Kaufmann Foundation in 1929, the same year that launched the Great Depression. The following year, he gave $200,000 for construction of the Theresa L. Kaufmann Auditorium at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, plus funds for an auditorium with the same name at the Irene Kaufmann Settlement in Pittsburgh.

At a dinner in 1930, settlement house leaders honored him for his generosity in financing the new addition that held the auditorium, a gymnasium and swimming pool. More than 2,000 people attended and gave Henry an ovation.

Henry’s generosity also endures in the Henry Kaufmann Camp Grounds in New York, which were named for him in 1953. Also, the Henry Kaufmann Family Park consists of 100 acres in Monroeville and is run by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

The first Emma Kaufmann Camp, originally called Emma Farm Association, opened around 1909 in Harmarville. Funded by brothers Isaac and Morris, it was named for Emma Lehman Kaufmann, Isaac’s first wife, and designed to give poor children a chance to escape Pittsburgh’s filthy air and to experience nature.

To accommodate more children, a new, larger camp opened in Harmony in 1922 with a large athletic field for baseball, basketball, tennis, volleyball plus a campfire ring and seven natural caves. In 1971, the camp moved to a 200-acre site on Lake Lynn near Morgantown, W. Va. where it welcomes campers ages 7 to 16.

In 1960, Jewish community leaders decided to merge the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association in Oakland, the Irene Kaufmann Settlement and the Emma Farm Association. The new organization was often called the Y-IKC and nicknamed the “Ikes.”

The direct descendant of these organizations is the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. The new building in Scott, dedicated in 1999, was named for Henry Kaufmann. ■

Irene's portrait hangs in the Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave. in Squirrel Hill. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette
Isaac and Morris Kaufmann in 1908 bought this small farm in Harmarville, Pa., (shown circa 1895) to give immigrant children and convalescing adults a chance to get away from the smoky city air. The camp was named in memory of Isaac Kaufmann's first wife, Emma. Courtesy the University of Pittsburgh
Campers arrive at the Harmony, Pa., Emma Farm Camp in July 1922. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center Rauh Jewish Archives
Campers are weighed and measured at Emma Farm Camp, 1925. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
Sidney Teller, former Emma Kaufmann Camp administrator, helps celebrate Henry Kaufmann's 80th birthday in July 1940. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
Today, Henry Kaufmann's name lives on in the Henry Kaufmann Family Recreation Park in Monroeville. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
The Irene Kaufmann Settlement Building (IKS) was located at 1835 Center Avenue (shown here in 1916). The Irene Kaufmann Settlement merged with the Young Men's & Women's Hebrew Association and evolved into the Jewish Community Center. Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
This image shows the newer Irene Kaufmann Settlement building in the foreground, circa 1941, and the original one in the background farther down the street. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
The Hill House Association, Kaufmann Building and the Irene Kaufmann Auditorium underwent renovation in 2011. The complex is now the Elsie H. Hillman Theater in the Hill District on Centre Avenue. Bill Wade/Post-Gazette
The original Young Men's Hebrew Association building, circa 1914, 1942 Fifth Avenue, Uptown. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
The newer Young Men and Women's Hebrew Association building, 315 S. Bellefield Ave., shortly after its sale to the University of Pittsburgh in 1984. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
The Irene Kaufmann Building at Murray and Forbes avenues in Squirrel Hill was torn down in 1986 to make room for a new building (shown here) nearly double the size of the previous one. The new building opened in 1988. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
Pre-school teachers and their young charges are shown playing recently at the new courtyard playground at the JCC's Early Childhood and Development Center. Courtesy of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh
Architectural model of the Civic Arena and surrounding development as envisioned by Edgar Kaufmann for the Lower Hill. Post-Gazette Archives
This poem, circa 1963, commemorated the new Civic Arena. From "This is Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania, We Live Here ... We Like It," by Josie Carey and Marty Wolfson, published 1963, Courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Pittsburgh, from the PG Archives


Story: Marylynne Pitz

Marylynne Pitz writes about art, architecture, history and historic homes. She has received Golden Quill awards for her work in 2012, 2014 and 2015. A native of Indianapolis, Ms. Pitz earned her journalism degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., before joining the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Other credits

Design: Ben Howard
Development: Laura Malt Schneiderman

Special thanks

Senator John Heinz History Center Archivist Sierra Green,
Senator John Heinz History Center Director of the Small Town Jewish History Project Susan Melnick,
Division Director of Public Relations, Marketing and Communications for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh Roberta Mintz Levine,
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Fallingwater Museum Programs Assistant Clinton Piper
and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Registrar/Collections Manager Michael Howell
for photos, research and insight.


"Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House" by Franklin Toker, Knopf, 2003
"Merchant Princes: An Intimate History of Jewish Families Who Built Great Department Stores" by Leon A. Harris, Harper & Row, 1979
"Gimbels Has It!" by Michael J. Lisicky, The History Press, 2011
"A Chronicle of Jewish Life by the Rhine" by Alfred Kaufmann, 1967, courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center
"The Fallingwater Cookbook: Elsie Henderson's Recipes & Memories," by Suzanne Martinson with Jane Citron and Robert Sendall, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008
"Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class", by Jan Whitaker, St. Martin's Press, 2006
"This is Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania, We Live Here ... We Like It," by Josie Carey and Marty Wolfson, 1963
"Steel City Jews in Prosperity, Depression and War: A History of Pittsburgh and its Jewish Community, 1915-1950," by Barbara S. Burstin, 2015
"Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture" by William R. Leach, Vintage, 1994
"Merchant Prince and Master Builder: Edgar J. Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright" by Richard L. Cleary, Carnegie Museum of Art, 1999
​"Contemporary Shops in the United States" by Emrich Nicholson, Architectural Book Pub. Co. Inc., 1945 ​
"​Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh's North Side" by Dan Rooney and Carol Peterson, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014
"The Architecture of Benno Janssen," by Donald Miller, Carnegie Mellon University, 1997
"Boardman Robinson: American Muralist & Illustrator, 1876-1952," Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1997
"Civic Light Opera: How the Dreams Came True," by Mary Brignano, White Oak Publishing, 1996

Login  Register Logout