Founded by Abram Lisner, Palais Royal expanded from its beginnings as a specialty store to a successful department store. Lisner operated the store as a cash-only business that offered low-price merchandise, attracting customers to shop there with the help of his brother George Lisner. Palais Royal started its lifetime as a smaller store in the larger Centennial Building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. However, as the store grew, Lisner found that renting more space in the building proved less profitable, and began searching for his own building.
What resulted was a new building at 11th and G streets NW, a growing commercial center in DC. Designed by Harvey L. Page and completed in 1893, the Chicago-style building was unique to the city and considered by some to be the first purpose-built department store in the city. The building sat at an optimal location, allowing it to expand even further – both vertically and horizontally – from 1910 to 1914. As public transportation expanded throughout the city, Palais Royal was again prime real estate as it sat directly on a streetcar line. The store’s success marked a new period in DC’s retail history as one of the original department stores to make up the downtown commercial core.
In 1924, Lisner sold the Palais Royal business to S.S. Kresge Department Stores Company and entered retirement. The store’s takeover did not majorly affect the business, and Palais Royal even expanded during this time, opening two new branch stores outside the city in 1942 and 1943. The expansion would be quickly nullified, however, by the sale of the flagship store to Woodward & Lothrop three years later in 1946. Woodward & Lothrop, located one block south, quickly took over the building for its own expansion purposes and created an underground tunnel to connect the two buildings.
Under Woodward & Lothrop ownership, the acquisition would prove increasingly fruitful. During Metro’s construction in the 1970s, the existing underground tunnel gave executives the idea to have the new subway station connect to the store’s existing underground entrance. While the takeover by Woodward & Lothrop proved successful for decades, their eventual downsizing in the 1980s meant saying goodbye to the Palais Royal building. The building had been designated as an historic landmark in 1964 (and redesignated in 1973), but was sold for redevelopment. Efforts were made to save the building from demolition, due to its unique architectural style and construction, but these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. The building was demolished in 1987 and the Washington Center office building stands in its place today.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964, omitted from list July 24, 1968
DC Inventory Redesignation: October 24, 1973
Demolished in 1987
This site is a stop on the “Finding Style in DC: Navigating DC’s Shopping Scene” tour.