Aug 31, 2010

ALEX HART: ¨He was a philanthropist, a businessman, a civic and community leader, a social arbiter, a charming host, a gentleman and a friend...


*Alex J. Hart, the final family owner of Hart's Department Stores, died peacefully on Aug. 8 in Saratoga, one month and a day shy of his 90th birthday.

I recently received word of the ¨passing¨ of my all-time personal hero, much admired mentor and great friend, Alex Hart*. ¨Mr. Hart¨ was President of Hart´s Department Store where I started as an Executive Trainee while simultaneously attending San Jose State College in the Fall of 1961.

Within a few years I became a Buyer at Hart´s while still attending Art School. Mr. Hart, as time progressed, on ¨off duty¨ hours would become ¨Alex¨ during the many elegant and fun dinner parties he hosted at his lovely, welcoming homes (first off the Alameda, then the Rose Garden, then off the Alameda again). Such excellent food, beautiful table settings, coctails before and singing at the Grand Piano afterward. Alex was indeed a well known person-famous-celebrity-notable citizen and a gracious host who often had other very well-known people, from retail world mogels and famous movie/T.V. stars to important film executives and other well-known professionals and politicos visit his home for parties.

I was often amongst several young people who were personally gifted with kind and welcoming invitations to his home for spectacular, large and small, social events that were way beyond-my-young-imagination (and everyday dreams of splendid/elegant living reality including artwork by the likes of Picasso and other famosos). I learned my very best manners, sense of style, merchandising savvy and the general way ¨to be¨ in my adultlife from Alex J. Hart. Today my heart is open and I´m deeply touched and grateful because of the many kind and helpful words, acts and general direction that Alex Hart offered freely to me in my life.

Later in my retail progression, years after I moved away from San Jose and Hart´s, Mr. Hart discreetly supported my ongoing retail career by offering a unsolicited personal reference that clearly resulted in me securing a very prestiges, and sought after BIG JOB at another Department Store in another city. As it turned out, Alex Hart was a very close friend/business acquaintance with the President of a chain of very fine/high-end fashion department stores where I had been presented as a candidate to work. I got the job, it was a very ¨big deal¨ for me, I´ve never forgotten the many kind deeds of Alex Hart.

Alex Hart will always touch my Heart because of the many REAL examples of his generosity, good-will and wise ways both at work and socially...thanks to you Alex for all that you have done for me and for all of us whose character, talent and integrity have been impacted profoundly by being graced with the presence of you, Alex Hart, in our lives. Leonard Clark Beardsley, Central America, August 31, 2010

Prayers Ascending

*Alex J. Hart, the final family owner of Hart's Department Stores, died peacefully on Aug. 8 in Saratoga, one month and a day shy of his 90th birthday.

No single word can describe Mr. Hart. He was a philanthropist, a businessman, a civic and community leader, a social arbiter, a charming host, a gentleman and a friend to many.

"Whatever Alex did, he did so well," says Leigh Weimers, a longtime friend. "I always thought Alex was a consummate gentleman, always well spoken and well groomed. If his goal was to sell menswear, he did a beautiful job of being the model himself. You wanted to buy something to make yourself look as good as Alex Hart."

Judy Goldeen recalls knowing Mr. Hart from childhood, as he was a friend of her parents, the late Don and Jane Goldeen.

"Alex was a sweet, dear man who loved a good party," she says.

Goldeen recalls that when she and the late Steffi Sims would go to brunch with Mr. Hart, "He was always dressed to the nines and treated us as though we were the most important ladies in his life."

Mr. Hart was born in San Jose on Sept. 9, 1920, the second son of Alex J. Hart Sr. and Nettie Brooke Hart. His grandfather Leopold Hart arrived in San Jose from his native Alsace Lorraine and opened his first dry goods and clothing store in 1866.

In 1902 he was successful enough to launch L. Hart & Son Department Store in downtown San Jose, which by 1920 was the largest department store between San
Francisco and Los Angeles.


It was Mr. Hart's older brother, Brooke, who was groomed to take over the helm of the store, but everything changed on Nov. 9, 1933, when Brooke Hart was kidnapped as he left the family store, then brutally murdered.

His two kidnappers were taken from their jail cells by an angry mob, carried across the street to St. James Park and lynched. The incident made headlines across the United States and Europe.

The Hart family was much loved in the community, and in his award-winning book on the subject, Swift Justice, the late Harry Farrell wrote that his murderers "could have chosen no victim whose popularity and place in the community would more surely guarantee the violent retribution that followed."

Mr. Hart was 13 at the time, and his older brother was 22.

He was sent to San Rafael Military Academy, returning to San Jose to attend Santa Clara University.

Mr. Hart was living in Los Angeles and writing music for Paramount Pictures when his father died in 1943, and he returned to San Jose to take over the family store at the corner of Market and Santa Clara streets.

Theo Hart says he believes his father would have preferred a career writing musicals to haberdashery, but he wouldn't shirk his family responsibilities.

In 1944 Mr. Hart married Iphigenia Papavosiliou, a native of Greece. They met at a party in Berkeley, where she was attending the University of California. They had three sons, Brooke, A.J. and Theo, later divorcing.

Theo Hart says that while his father was well known, what was unknown were the many things he did for others.

"My father brought the first traffic stoplight to downtown at Market and Santa Clara, so pedestrians would have the right of way to cross the busy streets," he says.

"He was a great philanthropist. He donated the property at Naglee and The Alameda where the YMCA sits. It was his father's house and where he grew up."

Hart also praises his father as a style innovator.

"He was very big on making Hart's a fashion place. My grandfather didn't do that. Dad really brought the style and panache.

"He loved art and style and form, and he brought that to San Jose."

If Mr. Hart made any mistake, it was in his emotional loyalty to downtown San Jose, says his son.

"The worst decision he made in his career was not moving from downtown to be the anchor store at Valley Fair shopping center," Hart says.

"Everyone begged him not to do it, and he made an emotional decision not to leave downtown. That was the precursor to his business not remaining competitive with the malls."

Mr. Hart expanded from downtown to open stores in Sunnyvale in 1957, followed by Hart's Mayfield Mall in Mountain View and Hart's Westgate in San Jose.

He sold the stores in 1976, but remained with the company to ensure a successful transition and to make sure his loyal employees were taken care of.

The camaraderie of Hart's employees was such that they held annual reunions for many years after the stores closed in the early 1980s.

"They were usually at the Three Flames on Meridian," Hart says. "I used to go to them with my father, but then everybody started passing away."

Following his retirement in 1981, Mr. Hart traveled, but the lure of merchandising brought him back to work for a few more years.

In a 2000 interview with journalist Paul Lukes, Mr. Hart said, "After our store closed, I got bored. I knew retail, so I talked to my friend Nick Sands at I. Magnin.

"After I assured him I didn't want his job, he hired me to work in better jewelry and handbags. I just loved it."

Mr. Hart lived in many homes over the years, including ones in San Jose, Los Gatos and Saratoga.

Hart says his father moved in with him and his family nine years ago, and in 2007 he moved into Our Lady of Fatima Villa in Saratoga. There he continued to be a positive influence and helpful to others.

Randi Kinman remembers the friendship he extended to her mother Marcy Kinman when she moved there in December 2009.

"His friendship and humor were the keys to her easy transition to living in a new situation," says Kinman, who escorted Mr. Hart to the 50-year anniversary celebration of the Central YMCA in October 2009.

In addition to his support of the Y, Mr. Hart was a past president of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, a supporter of St. Elizabeth's Day Home, San Jose Symphony, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Santa Clara Youth Center. He was also active with Rotary, Elks and the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Mr. Hart is survived by his sons Brooke and his wife, Marcia, of Madera; A.J. and his wife, Linda, of Almaden Valley; Theo and his wife, Vicki, of Saratoga; 10 grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


The family requests donations in Mr. Hart's memory be made to the Central YMCA, 1717 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126, or to their charity of choice. HERE

· Thanks to The San Jose Mercury News
· Thanks to Alex Hart, Hart´s Department Stores
· Thanks to Brooke, A.J. and Theodore (I remember you as great young men who sometimes attended our store rallies)

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