Prior to the Salmon Run Mall, JCPenney on Arsenal Street was part of a bustling downtown scene
In 1959, JCPenney was on Court Street and looking for a larger, modern store to move into. With the purchasing of the Flower Building, a four-story building on the corner of Arcade and Arsenal Streets that served as home for many smaller merchants, the plans were set in motion for its new location.
The Flower building, along with the Arcade Hotel, would soon after be demolished. Oddly enough, the Flower building was one of the first in the city to have an elevator installed and was to be replaced with one of the first buildings in the city to have an escalator. It would cost $19,000 to raze, making way for the new JCPenney location under a lease agreement with construction beginning in the fall of 1959.
That October 16th, the Watertown Daily Times would report–
The new store building will be of reinforced concrete construction and will have a number of features unique to Watertown. The building will fill the entire site and will have a frontage of 109 feet on Arcade Street and 215 feet on Arsenal Street.
The basement and ground floor of the structure will house sales space with storage and stock rooms in the basement. The partial second story, which will be at the Arsenal Street end of the structure, will house office space. The main entrance to the store will be on Arsenal Street while another entrance will be on the Arcade Street side. The entire ground floor sides of the building, facing the streets, will feature large display windows.
An escalator, which will probably be the only one in a Watertown store, will connect the first floor sales area with the basement. The building will be air conditioned with a steam-boiler system providing heat.
The entire job, from demolition of existing buildings to construction of the new space consisting of 35,000 square feet would cost approximately $500,000… or so they thought. When the store finally opened in October 13th of 1960, several months behind schedule, the total cost was reported to be double the original estimate of $500,000.
Escalator Acts As Mechanical Sitter In Store
The Daily Times would observe on JCPenney’s grand opening–
The escalator, long a source of delight to children in larger cities, has made its advent in Watertown with the opening of the new J. C. Penney store on Arsenal Street.
Many a small fry could be seen tugging on his mother’s hand to ask for a return trip on the endlessly moving stairway leading from the basement store to the main floor.
The new escalator, the first ever used in a city building, acts as a mechanical baby sitter for small boys who contently make the trip over and over again as their parents shop.
The continual development of Interstate 81 (I-81) in the 1950’s and 60’s would find construction linking Syracuse to Watertown a year after JCPenney relocated to Arsenal Street in 1960.
For many cities, the interstate had become a cashflow-stream as businesses located right of the exits were an attractive offering for shoppers from out of the area looking for the convenience of easy access and the all-in-one-location the malls offered with regards to shopping, restaurants and entertainment.
The urban renewal of the 1960’s would also factor into the potential viability of stores staying in the downtown area. One by one, many of the stores that made Court and Arsenal Street the city’s shopping corridor met the wrecking ball. While the City Center Mall anchored by the new Woolworth store would fill some of the whole left by urban renewal, by the early to mid 1980’s, there was less reasons to stay downtown.
JCPenney would join the downtown-exodus with Sears and move to the Salmon Run Mall in 1986, leaving the building vacant. Today, the site of the former store is now a small parking lot and part of the Jefferson County Court Complex expansion.
You may notice on the older photos, the store is referred to as J.C. Penney. In the early 1960’s, it often used a shorthand version, simply noting “Penneys.” Even the Watertown Daily Times joined in on the confusion in its August 30, 1960 edition —
In 1971, “it,” for lack of knowing what to actually call the store, changed its name to JCPenney. The changes wouldn’t end there, though.
In 2012, JCPenney changed its logo to JCP in a blue box in the upper left-hand corner inside a larger white box with red border in an effort to reflect a more newer, hip culture. This was done after a year of placing the JCP of JCPenney into a red box, leaving the “enney” against plain white.
The marketing efforts failed miserably as brand recognition dropped 28%. The following year, they would revert back to their pre-2011 logo, simply JCPenney. You can see the logos and read more here.