Joseph Magnin Co.

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The Joseph Magnin Company was a high-end specialty department store founded in San Francisco, California by Joseph Magnin.


Joseph Magnin was the son of Isaac Magnin and Mary Ann Magnin. Mary Ann Magnin was the founder of the I. Magnin & Co. high-end specialty department store she named after her husband. Joseph Magnin was active in the running of the I. Magnin Co. until 1913. He had been passed over by Mary Ann, offering more prominent company positions to her other three sons John, Samuel and Grover. Joseph left I. Magnin and cashed in his share of ownership.

He initially went into real estate, before returning to retail. He bought into a store named Newman-Levinson and changed it to Newman-Magnin. Eventually he bought out his partners and changed the name to Joseph Magnin Co.

The store was located at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell Streets. At the time, I. Magnin Co. was located at Grant and Geary Streets. However in 1948 when I. Magnin built the new flagship store at Stockton and Geary streets, the two flagship stores were less than a block apart. Initially Joseph Magnin was a midrange purveyor of apparel and millinery and was viewed as a second-rate I. Magnin. Within the garment industry, Joseph Magnin Co. was known as “the other Magnin.” For many years Joseph Magnin Co. operated in the shadows of I. Magnin. I. Magnin had many established providers of better fashions and demanded exclusivity; the sellers were barred from selling to Joseph Magnin if they wished to continue to do business with I. Magnin. To partially address this, Joseph Magnin rented the vacant 4th floor of the Stockton/O'Farrel store for a number of years to newly emerging local talent, the designer/manufacturer Eleanor Green, [1] for her design studio and factory.

Joseph Magnin at times did use consumer confusion on the Magnin name to their advantage by calling the store J. Magnin in signage, advertisements, and store bags. The store also self identified as JM.

Post-war era[edit]

After World War II, under the leadership of Joseph’s son Cyril Magnin, the Joseph Magnin Co. went more upscale and began courting the younger woman’s market. JM advertisements were distinctive as being glamorous, sophisticated, trendy and youthful. One newspaper ad went to print without the Magnin name. Cyril was furious until he was told the item had sold out; everyone knew it was a JM ad. Marilyn Monroe purchased the suit she wore when she married Joe DiMaggio in 1954 at JM. As of 1960 the store was one of the first in San Francisco to employ Asian-Americans in customer service.[citation needed]

In 1967 JM was responsible for buying Lynda Bird Johnson’s trousseau.

The store also included the 'Wolves Den' departmentfor men only. Men could shop in a clublike area while seated, served martinis, smoking cigars, and being shown merchandise by JM's most attractive women.


In 1969 Cyril Magnin arranged for the Joseph Magnin Co. to be purchased by Amfac, Inc. of Hawaii.[2] Amfac owned Liberty House, among other stores, on the West Coast and Hawaii. Cyril remained the chairman of the board of JM. Joseph Magnin grew to a chain of thirty-two stores. In 1984 Amfac closed the Joseph Magnin Co.,[3] the same year as the West Coast Liberty House stores were closed.


  1. ^ Facebook: Eleanor Green Deitch
  2. ^ "Joseph Magnin to Be Acquired by Amfac Inc.". Los Angeles Times. January 17, 1969. p. F16. (subscription required (help)).  Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  3. ^ Yoshihara, Nancy (September 18, 1984). "Joseph Magnin Closes All 24 Stores and Files Bankruptcy Petition". Los Angeles Times. pp. E1–E2. (subscription required (help)).  Alternate Link via ProQuest.