Goodbye Gump’s

By David Nash

After 157 years, San Francisco’s iconic department store meets the same fate as its contemporaries from a bygone era.

The famous Gump’s storefront.

The story of Gump’s — and of brothers Solomon and Gustave Gump — is a realization of the “American dream” that began in 1850, when the German-born sons of a textile manufacturer sailed to the United States, seduced by progress and opportunity. 

Entering through New York, Solomon and Gustave made their way to Florida and settled in an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, in a town called Apalachicola. (Fun fact: Apalachicola physician John Gorrie patented the first ice machine the same year, 1850, after discovering the cold-air process necessary for refrigeration.)  In the early 1860s, Solomon set out for San Francisco — lured not by “gold fever,” which began over a decade before, but rather by the residual effects of the Gold Rush. Many of the new millionaires living in California, and around San Francisco, were interested in showcasing their success and wealth, spending their money building enormous mansions and filling the rooms with fine furnishings and décor. 

Their sister Gertrude and her husband, David Hausmann, owned a gold frame and mirror shop in San Francisco, David Hausmann & Company, founded by Hausmann in 1861. Solomon joined the business a few years later, and in 1864, the same year Gustave arrived in San Francisco, he acquired the popular mirror and frame gilding business. It would be another few years before the brothers would become partners in the family-run establishment, changing the name in 1871 to S & G Gump. The following year it moved from 535 Clay Street to a larger space at 119 Sansome, then to Market Street a few years after that, and finally to Geary in 1892. 

Conversation-starters crafted from glass. Photo by Matt Thompson.

By the 1880s, the shop grew to include original artwork and objets d’art — ostensibly becoming the first fine-art gallery in San Francisco. At the turn of the 20th century, the business was passed to Solomon’s son, Abraham Livingston Gump, whose stewardship saw the iconic retailer through the devastation of the 1906 earthquake — and who personally financed its rebuilding at 250 Post Street. As Abraham’s interest in the arts and culture of the Far East took shape, so too did his stock of merchandise from Japan and China. Fine porcelain, jade, bronze, and exotic fabrics and rugs filled the store. The success of Gump’s was without question. In fact, there were additional — but seldom remembered — locations in Los Angeles, Carmel and, most notably, Hawaii.

In the early 1920s, an interior decorator living in Hawaii, Alice Spalding Bowen, approached Abraham (known as “A.L.”) about opening an outpost on Waikiki. It took several years to materialize, but A.L. finally agreed, and in February 1929, Gump’s debuted with Bowen in place as the general manager. The location, which shuttered in February 1951, is reported to have had the first neon sign on the island. (The historically registered building has been home to a Louis Vuitton boutique since 1992).  After A.L.’s death in 1947, his son Richard ran the company until retiring in 1975, thereafter selling it to Macmillan Publishers. It was later sold three more times — in 1989 and 1993, with the last sale to the current investment group back in 2005. 

Abraham Livingston Gump, shown here in the 1930s, lost much of his sight earlier in life. He trained his touch to be as fine a judge of quality and value as another person’s vision. His son, Richard, took over the company in 1947.

When news of Gump’s bankruptcy — and ultimate closure — began swirling in August, a wave of nostalgia blanketed the city, just like the fog that moves through the Golden Gate passage into the Bay. The beloved retail institution — the very last of its kind in San Francisco — will soon become a memory. 

Remembering Gump’s

As the iconic store prepares to take its final bow, a few loyal patrons, past and present, shared some thoughts and memories.

“I remember walking into Gump’s in the early ’90s as a young professional and new resident of San Francisco. It was a window to the world and equal parts glitz and glamour. I used to spend hours walking around it in pure bliss – imagining everything I could buy but not yet afford! I would usually walk out with some small trinket so I could consider myself a Gump’s shopper, yet still pay my rent.”

 — Scott Cocking, associate global marketing director, Aquaculture

Greg Malin uses his Gump’s frames for his most cherished photographs, including one of his late wife, Charlot Malin.

“Gump’s is a San Francisco institution, and represents the best of our wonderful city. I have fond memories of Gump’s, especially the staff. Their sales professionals were the most experienced in the industry and were experts at protocol. For every special occasion in my family we visited Gump’s, whether it was for my wedding registration, creating our family stationery or purchasing accessories for our home, they always delivered with class, sophistication and expert advice.  I loved how they believed every purchase represented their brand and would never let you walk out of the store with an item without having it properly boxed with a ribbon.”  

Greg Malin, CEO, Troon Pacific Inc.

Richard Pellegrini shared some of his wonders from Gump’s, including this caviar serving dish that he uses for entertaining.

“My earliest memory of Gump’s was as a child with my mother holding one hand, and telling me to keep the other one in my pocket. Some of my most treasured Gump’s items are a collection of crystal hearts that my wife has gifted me almost every Valentine’s Day — our wedding registry was at Gump’s. Another would be the collection of Champagne flutes we gift each other on milestone birthdays. My Gump’s caviar dish could write a book about the cast of characters that dipped their spoon into it. The other items that I truly think are an old treasure are the blue service plates stamped Rosenthal for S&G Gump, they are from an era gone by. The closing of Gump’s is truly like losing an old friend.” 

Richard Pellegrini, a third-generation San Franciscan who shares his Gump’s collection with his wife, Janet Pellegrini. 

“[My husband] Mike found my engagement ring there – a stunning estate piece from the 1920s that I absolutely love! My dad went the next year and found a ring for his now-wife. We all connotate Gump’s as being utterly romantic!” 

Elise Krzyzkowski, operations planner, Clif Bar & Company

“When we were engaged, my husband Jamie and I moved from New York City to San Francisco. We registered for our wedding at Gump’s and we still cherish a few select pieces to this day. Several years later I launched the public relations campaign for Emily Scott Pottruck’s book Tails of Devotion: A Look at the Bond Between People and Their Pets.  We held the inaugural event at Gump’s. It was a huge success, attended by Gavin Newsom, Sarah Williams, Isabel Allende, Peter Coyote, Ronnie Lott, Mickey Hart, Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman, Orlando Cepeda, Michael Tilson Thomas and Stephan Jenkins.  I’ll never forget that night.” 

Kristen Green, owner, Kristen Green Public Relations

Liz Curtis loves to style her table settings with Gump’s items. Photo by Agency Moanalani Jeffrey.

“Ever since I was a little girl, my mom and I would head to the luxury goods mecca every time we were in the city. We’d have a girl’s lunch at The Rotunda or Cafe de la Presse, and then spend hours poring over the expertly curated tabletop and decor selections. When I started planning my nationwide table setting rental business, I frequently stopped by Gump’s to make sure that my designs were on-point. I can’t tell you how devastated I am that I won’t be able to fulfill my childhood dream of registering at the iconic store.”

Liz Curtis, founder and owner, Table + Teaspoon 

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