The Galleria is Back – Scads of New Retailers Welcome Christmas

HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Those who underestimated the depth of the vision of Stanley Marcus were often corrected.  Some questioned the wisdom of moving Houston’s Neiman Marcus department store from downtown to a prairie on Westheimer Road in 1969. Neiman’s national reputation for the highest quality goods drew international shoppers who laid the foundation for making the Galleria a solid go. What would become Texas’ largest shopping center opened in November 1970.

The lengthy negotiations between the legends of Texas business – Galleria developer Gerald D. Hines and retail virtuoso Harold Stanley Marcus, a Dallas native – resulted in a mixed-use development and shopping mecca that changed the course of Houston growth forever.

New Neiman Marcus Couture display. Photo: Michelle Leigh Smith.

“Mr. Stanley Marcus was the retailing genius that took the family business to new heights with his amazing instincts, great taste and creative ideas,” says fashion consultant Roz Pactor, now of My Red Glasses. Pactor was assigned to help facilitate the move from Main Street to Westheimer and 2600 Post Oak.

“Neiman’s big move to the Galleria in early 1969 was the biggest story in retail that this city had seen. Keeping it all in the family back then, it was his brother Lawrence Marcus that was our Store Manager for those first years of the Houston store which has remained one of Neiman Marcus’ top branches.”  At N-M’s 75thanniversary, columnist Art Buchwald quipped, “If it wasn’t for Neiman Marcus, Dallas would be just another dusty Texas town surrounded by Sakowitz stores.”

Nov. 15, 1970 – History Was Made in Houston 

Fifty-two years ago, November 15, 1970, Gerald D. Hines opened The Galleria – what was then a 600,000 SF, multi-level  development anchored by Stanley Marcus’ legendary luxury emporium, Neiman Marcus.

The Galleria differed from other Houston shopping destinations like Westbury Square, which was also patterned after a European shopping destination, in penultimate level of luxury – and it was first Texas mall with an ice rink. In those early days, the Galleria boasted its own See’s Candy with lines that wrapped the rink, the watch shop, and prime office space in the Post Oak Tower.

Hines was inspired by Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19thcentury glass topped mall in Milan with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, with two shorter arms, a central crossroads and an opening to the La Scala opera house.  The Galleria’s glass ceiling spans the length of the central axis of the mall, mirroring the international model in Milan. Today, Galleria restaurants like Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Nobu, and Fig & Olive sustain shoppers, much in the way the Milan Galleria’s Savini re-energizes visitors.

Gerald D. Hines visiting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Photo credit: Hines.

As zillions of shoppers walk through the Galleria aisles this Christmas season, few will know or remember the inspiration of the Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It was founded in 1868 as an Italian coffee bar, and in 1876 became a highly popular beer house and still serves their celebrated “yard of beer.”

A century later, along comes Gerald Hines, a high-energy Houston developer who was juggling development of two new masterpiece projects – the Galleria and the 50-story One Shell Plaza, a downtown skyscraper that became Houston’s tallest building when it opened in 1971.

That was also the year Hines opened the Galleria’s Houston Oaks Hotel, now the Westin Oaks. At the Galleria, new stores opened at a rapid pace, growing almost as fast as the city of Houston – called the Energy Capital of the World. Gittings opened right outside Neiman’s, Isabell Gerhart, Tiffany’s and boutiques including Ralph Lauren Collection and Ted Lapidus, Tourneau watches, Marmi and Caruggi followed. “I started at Neiman’s in 1972 and could not believe the volume of business the mall was doing with Mexico,” says Sylvia Goldstein, who witnessed the special VIP appearances of internationally acclaimed designers from Bill Blass to Oscar de la Renta at Neiman’s. Affluent shoppers from Mexico soon became a vital part of the Galleria’s revenue mix.

“Our guests from Mexico also loved See’s Candy and they’d stand in line for an hour for it. Neiman’s had a phenomenal cafeteria for employees’ downstairs, run by a woman named Middie Dawson who later moved to cosmetics. Middie loved cooking for the “Breakfasts with Santa,” which are set for the first three weekends in December this year.

Blonde and a Size 2

For the holidays, Neiman’s is looking very blonde – blonde wood, blonde, well-tended customers. Bill Blass once said during a personal appearance here that he sold more ballgowns in sizes 2 and 4 than in any other city.

“I remember James Galanos shows at Neiman’s. Models were said to have a rib or two removed just to be able to work his shows,” says image consultant Helen Perry.

Throughout the years, the Galleria has expanded in size, adding multiple wings and a few former anchors including Frost Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field’s, Foley’s and Macy’s at the Sage-Road-end of the mega-mall.

The Marshall Field’s store was no ordinary department store box. Noted architect Philip Johnson was retained to design the store and major celebrity firepower was brought-in for a publicity extravaganza in 1979.

Chicago-based Marshall Fields invited Cary Grant and his then fiancée Barbara Harris to emcee their opening. “All of the women sales associates were swooning and the guys in display were enchanted,”” recalls then fashion director Nancy Bradley. “Cary Grant charmed them all with his kindness – he was representing the venerable Jungle Gardenia fragrance by Tuvache, a fragrance favored by Natalie Wood, Liz Taylor and Fay Wray. Wray wore it while filming King Kong in 1933.

The Galleria’s Evolution

The original Macy’s continued to operate until 2014 when it was demolished to accommodate the relocation of Saks Fifth Avenue from the old Marshall Field’s building into a new state of the art flagship store on the Macy’s at Sage. After the Saks relocation, the Marshall Field’s building was altered and reconfigured into smaller shops. These provided direct access to Galleria III and the new Saks Fifth Avenue store.

Houston’s Galleria expanded in size, adding multiple wings, a large Brooks Brothers, America’s oldest retailer, that offered both men and women’s clothing in 1996 and a few former anchors including Frost Brothers.  Within the three levels, The Galleria has its own post office, below Neiman’s and near Visible Changes, and this month’s hottest destination, Gucci on Level I. The Ripley Scott film, House of Gucci, features scenes in the New York Gucci store at 725 Fifth Avenue which mirrors our Galleria location between the Galleria Financial Center and Neiman’s.

In 2003, then new majority property owner Simon Property Group completed a $25 million renovation of the mall and added Galleria IV, a 700,000-square-foot addition with 70 more stores. A second Ralph Lauren store, Polo Ralph Lauren, opened in 2014 between Louis Vuitton and Zara. The mall still had a way to go to outpace Milan’s Galleria. In its final configuration, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele comprised 1260 venues – the epicenter of shopping in Italy.

“Luxury has always been a focus, very much a part of our identity, one of our key pillars,” says Simon’s Chris Lane, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Simon Property Group. “With more than 400 stores, we’re in a unique situation that most other urban malls don’t find themselves in. We cater to every demographic.”

By comparison, Dallas’ Galleria is significantly smaller, says Lane. “The Galleria is the largest shopping center in Texas, with mixed use, and one of the largest in the nation – not factoring the three office towers with 1 million SF of space, the Westin Oaks and the Westin Galleria hotels (a total of 900 rooms.)  And it’s connected by skybridge to the 64-story Williams Tower, nee Transco Tower and the adjacent to the experiential Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. Hines sold The Galleria in 1999.

Today in the Galleria proper, Simon has a total of 2,025,079 leasable square footage for retailers and restaurants, and much of it occupied or committed.

Reese Witherspoon Enters The Galleria with New Store for Christmas ’21

Simon recently announced the addition of 22 new stores, including Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James, which is the first location west of the Mississippi and is a mega win for Texas,” says Lane. The Draper James team launched last week with a soft opening, and plans are rumored for Reese to make a personal appearance later this year. Named for Witherspoon’s grandparents, Dorothea Draper and William James Witherspoon, the actress opened her first outlet store in Nashville in 2015.  The genteel dresses, suitable for Sorority Rush, are a nod to Dorothea’s classic sense of style. “My grandmother Dorothea only drove white Cadillacs — always while wearing proper driving gloves,” Witherspoon notes in a company statement. “She didn’t have a lot of dresses, but she had an incredible sense of style and knew how to make the most of any outfit by wearing the perfect accessories. Her shoes always matched her purse and she never removed her pearls or her wedding ring.”

“When I returned to Nashville with my own family, I wanted to recapture and celebrate all that I love and remember about my grandparents and the South,” added Witherspoon. “That is why I created Draper James.”

The new Galleria location on Level One between Nordstrom and Macy’s sells charming clothing, accessories, beach wear, totes, and table decor, as well as art and picturesque interior designs from notable artists including Chelsea Petaja and Kayce Hughes – items perfect for those holiday shopping lists.

Back to the Basics of Christmas – The Galleria

Chatting about this year’s holiday shopping season at The Galleria, Lane added that he is “excited to get back to normal as there’s a need to have in-person gatherings and we’re thrilled to see where this holiday season is headed. The Galleria is the perfect place to spend your holiday season. We go all out with our 55-foot-tall Christmas tree on the rink and all of our entrances are decorated, inviting shoppers to experience some incredibly unique installations.” For example, Golden Goose out of Italy offers a creative workspace where shoppers may customize sneakers. “The dryers are stacked as an artistic display, and shoppers can put the sneakers inside to give them a totally unique and customizable look,” adds Lane. “It’s been here a little over a year and is the only one in Houston. You can’t take the dryers home, but people are craving the curated and custom aesthetic to make sure you have one of a kind – whether it’s a shirt, a handbag, or a pair of shoes. We’re seeing more of a demand for this exclusivity.” Golden Goose burst on the scene last year, merging the creative spirit of Francesca Rinaldo and Alessandro Gallo, two young Venetian designers.

Enter: Giorgio Armani

In the rarefied luxury category, Giorgio Armani debuted an all-new boutique, after relocating in Texas’ largest and most luxurious shopping destination. This classic Italian house joins an unparalleled offering of exclusive-to-market brands including Creed and Louis Vuitton Men’s.

“Sugar Factory, on the Rink level, Therabody, near Saks on Level 2, Karma and Luck on Level 2 near the Galleria Financial Center, Forward are all the only ones in Texas,” says Lane.  “We always have these unique options.  This is where it happens, we are still carrying that momentum that began in 1970. Houston has always been a big beneficiary of international travel, with many visitors from Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mexico City.  With the borders reopening, we have a robust international business and we benefit from the fact that people are more comfortable traveling.  They take an Uber from the airport and everything’s here. If they have children, they can shop at the children’s stores – that’s the compelling offering, all under one roof.

“The Golden Goose did remarkably well, and not many major brands closed,” says Lane. “Tevana closed before the pandemic.  I think when retailers look at a closing in the Houston market, more than likely it will be one in a suburban market. They think they have to be here.  There was some shuffling around the mall – Everything But Water will relocate to Galleria IV, where Karma and Luck will be moving. They will be near Galleria Financial Center, and Blue Nile Diamonds will be on the corner where Game Stop used to be.

New stores now open or in the pipeline: 

  • Banter by Piercing Pagoda – Location: Level 2, between Macy’s and Nordstrom
  • Earthbound Trading Company – Location: Level 1, between Macy’s and Nordstrom
  • Gamestop – Relocation closer to the Play Area: Level 2, near Galleria Financial Center
  • Läderach Chocolatier Suisse – Location: Level 1, near The Westin Galleria
  • Levi’s – Location: Level 1, near Saks Fifth Avenue
  • MAAUVE – Location: Level 2, Near Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Urban City Barbershop – Location: Level 1, near Nordstrom
  • Free People Movement, offering athletic wear\t – Opening Fall; Level 1, near Macy’s
  • Nespresso – Opening Fall; Relocating to Level 1, near Macy’s
  • Crown of Light – Opening Fall; Level 1, near Galleria Financial Center
  • Blue Nile Diamonds – Opening Winter; Level 2, Near Galleria Financial Center, catty corner and above DeBeers.
  • Sugar Factory Express – Opening Winter 2021; Rink Level, Dining Pavilion
  • Therabody – Opening Winter; Level 2, near Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Aerie & Offline by Aerie – Opening Winter; Level 2, near Neiman Marcus
  • Karma and Luck – Opening Winter, Level 2, near Galleria Financial Center, from the Far East, the boutique is wildly popular in New York and Las Vegas.
  • Forward – Opening Winter; Level 2, near Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Burger King – Opening Winter; Rink Level, Dining Pavilion
  • Wok A Holic – Opening Winter; Rink Level, Dining Pavilion
  • Steepologie – Opening Winter; Level 1, near Macy’s
  • Arabian Oud – Opening Winter; Level 1, near Galleria Financial Center
  • Psycho Bunny – Opening Spring 2022; Level 2, near Galleria Financial Center

Nov. 24, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021

 For more about Texas real estate, check out the book Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town – An Extreme Close Up  by Ralph Bivins. Available on Amazon  

Houston 2020 Ebook version      

Photos credit:: Nick de la Torre.


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