J.C. Penney Co., San Francisco, California
By Dale Smith
J.C. Penney Company was just about the only San Francisco department store that I remember as having sold American Flyer Trains. I understand that there was a spectacular layout at the City of Paris, but I don't recall seeing it. Maybe it was gone before I reached train appreciating age. City of Paris was a bit more pricey than J.C. Penney, and not the kind of store at which my family frequently shopped, but we did stop by at least once a year at Christmas to see their huge 5 story Christmas tree.
The toy department of J.C. Penney, at 5th and Market Streets was on the the 6th floor, the top floor in the building. I remember riding the rickety elevators and never being sure if they would make it all the way to the top as they always shuddered between the 5th and 6th floors. I remember the layout as being huge, but the department was usually deserted and the layout was rarely operating. It was also located in an alcove in back of the sales counter, so it was never possible to get very close to it to see it in detail. I remember it being about 15 or 16 feet wide and maybe 8 to 12 feet deep. It was definitely a cut above the factory display layouts and had scenery, mostly at the rear of the layout. It was pretty clear that it was made to be viewed from one side only, and that was the front.
This was a layout that had much potential, but was never utilized properly. First of all, it was placed in a way that made it hard to see and it could only be viewed at a distance. Second of all, it rarely operated and the department seemed deserted by salespeople. Even so, it was my only exposure to a large American Flyer department store layout.
Fast forward about 45 years or so to the early 2000's. The J.C. Penney building has been gutted on the inside and converted to offices. One of those offices is the San Francisco Regional Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I am now an attorney practicing for a federal agency and trying discrimination cases on behalf of the Federal Government. Today I will be having a hearing and have been assigned to a hearing room on the 6th floor. While I do enjoy my job, I have to think back to the times when a visit to this floor in this building was only to look at and buy American Flyer trains.