Although Joseph Horne stores are signs of the past, the once popular retail chain has its special place etched into the collective memory of Pittsburgh.
Many residents still reminisce about the first department store in Downtown Pittsburgh, located in a seven-story building at Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. The building is still a landmark. And Horne’s had been remembered and praised as a 145-year-old Pittsburgh tradition.
Joseph Horne started his department store business in 1849 and built a landmark location for his store in Downtown in 1879.
Those reading the pages of The Pittsburgh Press or the Post-Gazette from the early 1920s and ’30s certainly came across Joseph Horne ads on multiple pages of the newspapers. The Downtown Horne’s took a lead in defining what was fashionable, what was trendy and what often was not affordable to everyone in Pittsburgh.
An ad from the 1936 Pittsburgh Press, Easter edition, read: “Pittsburgh Wants Its Bonnets with a Horne Label: The buoyancy and joy of spring is perfectly symbolized these days by a shopping scene in our Millinery Salons. The spacious rooms are filled with women eager for the rejuvenating effect of a new hat and here is everything by way of fashion authenticity, beauty and quality, to gratify this laudable quest… Hats for every costume, priced to suit every purse… $3.95 to $25. Horne’s, Fourth Floor.”
The Joseph Horne Downtown location made news and played a prominent role in Pittsburgh news scene. During the devastating flood of 1936, the Joseph Horne Co. building suffered because it was closest to the surging Allegheny River, The Pittsburgh Press reported. At their peak, the flood waters reached the second floor. “It was surreal; you had merchandise floating all over the place,” one witness said in an interview. After the flood, Horne’s message to the community read: “Let us be thankful: Our losses to the building and merchandise were tremendous, but they are nothing compared to that which we would have felt if a single one of our employees has lost his life. … Out of the flood of 1936 there will emerge a greater Horne’s.”
Horne’s was a scene of many protests throughout the years. Its employees in 1953 went on strike to contest working hours and wages. In 1993, it was reprimanded by Animal Passion, a Pittsburgh-based animal rights group, that protested against the sale of fur coats.
And, of course, how could one forget the Horne’s Christmas tree? It’s a long-held holiday season tradition which still lives on even though Horne’s is no more. The installation of the six-story tree placed on the building always has been awaited eagerly. It also served as a signal that it was time to check out the Christmas windows displays at Horne’s.
Some prominent people worked at Horne’s, including Andy Warhol, who had a summer job in the display department at the Joseph Horne department store in 1947.
Joseph Horne’s Co disappeared more than two decades ago. In 1994, Lazarus, a division of Federated Department Stores, bought 10 Joseph Horne Co. department stores.