When I think of Christmas I think about F.A.O. Schwarz, a store synonymous with this season for me. My love for toys that remain to this day, was nurtured here.
If it was holiday time, visits to this New York City Fifth Avenue classic were a childhood must.
Trips to the city figured prominently in my Long Island childhood, no more so than at Christmas time. Though my suburban neighborhood got into the holiday spirit with a colorful display of electric Christmas lights, they couldn’t hold a candle to the dazzle of the N.Y.C.
The entire day was one of old-fashioned grandeur, a rarified world far away from my new and improved modern suburbs. There was a sense of occasion that surrounded a visit to that Fifth Avenue neighborhood.
The Savoy Plaza Hotel had not been replaced by the massive General Motors building yet, and that distinguished skyscraper hotel with a large mansard roof was the perfect compliment to the Plaza Hotel directly across the Avenue.
Together with the distinctive towers of the Sherry Netherland and the Pierre Hotels to the north this high-rise ensemble was to me the most elegant and most defining part of the New York skyline.
But the most magical place of all for me was F.A.O. Schwarz.
In a one-of-a-kind city, the toy store on FifthAavenue was a one-of-a-kind shop and the two are forever intertwined in my memories. It was a year-round Santa’s workshop and walking into that store transported me into a special space.
It was a place where it was Christmas every day of the year, but on Christmas, it was extra special enchantment.
Walking through the tall glass doors ignited a sense of wonder and awe. Being a small child made the surrounding life-size stuffed animals only more enormous, enhancing the magic. And it wasn’t just a single department in a store. It had floors. And its own elevator.
This was no Toys R Us. Here were the most finely crafted exclusive toys from Germany, France or Switzerland.
Nor was this the place to get the latest Barbie. Macy’s Toyland was suitable for that. Madame Alexander ruled the roost here with her chic hard vinyl dolls. Glamorous Elise stood a stunning 17” and you could elegantly dress her from the finest cocktail dress to a naughty but nice pink satin nightie.
The Schwarz exclusives astonished.
There were was the flashy sleek Mercedes, an eyecatching toy vehicle for young drivers with an adjustable pedal system. Or an electric battery-powered Stutz Bear Cat automobile. I envisioned racing up and down my suburban sidewalks in this bright red car battery powered by a foot pedal. The ice cream counter rivaled Jahns Ice Cream Parlor and came with its own battery-operated mixer. For the equestrian set, a handsome horse perfect for a romp on the range came with real horse skin.
The visit itself was a gift. A store you could walk out of empty-handed but still feel thrilled and fulfilled. Enjoying the experience didn’t require buying anything.
Which didn’t mean I didn’t long for some special toys found only at the tony store.
What I longed for year after year was a Schwarz exclusive.
A dollhouse for animals. The “Forest Tree House” a 3 story “tree stump” shared by 15 little animals and birds, bears, squirrels a turtle, a fox a hedgehog, mice. etc. A hinged back opened to reveal rooms with furniture for living rooms dining room and bedrooms. Father Bear in overalls and Mother Bear in red checkered pinafore kept watch over the large family.
But I never dared asked for it. It was wildly expensive. $85.00 in 1961 seemed like a fortune.
Afterward my mother, and I would stop at Rumplemayers in the St Moritz for a hot chocolate with its generous dollop of whipped cream, a trace of which always stayed on my upper lip. With its pink walls lined with shelves of stuffed animals my mind would wander back to that special toy I had wanted, but kept it to myself.
My love for toys never diminished through the years, and I often browsed through saved F.A.O. Schwarz catalogs looking nostalgically at the toys I missed out on.
In 1975 one of my very first jobs was with Revlon whose offices were in the massive GM building now standing where the majestic Savoy Plaza once stood.
It was a stone’s throw from F.AO. Schwarz. While co-workers spent their lunch hours and their paychecks shopping at Bonwits and Bergdorf’s, I could be found wandering around my childhood.
And yes, I finally treated myself to the very toys I had once longed for. Including that Forest Tree House, that I schlepped from one city apartment to another through the years and now lives in my Huntington home today.
May we all get the things our heart desires. And the love we all need.
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© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Sally, great story. Thanks for sharing with us this memory slice. Keith
Im so glad you enjoyed the story. I work in a room right now that is filled floor to ceiling with the toys of my childhood alongside those purchased later to fill in the gaps of my youth.
Sweet tale, Sally. Brings back memories of trips to a card shop in my small town growing up. Almost hidden in the back was a nook filled with high-end toys unlike those anywhere else I town. I was always fascinated by what I would find there.
I think we all have memories of places where there were magical toys that we never saw anywhere else. Those memories stay with us and I’m happy if my story could bring yours back to you.