Visitors to downtown La Crosse can take a walk down memory lane.
UW-La Crosse history major Sophia Lorent recently completed a poster and website highlighting windows from the former Doerflinger’s department store. The laminated poster is displayed in a kiosk at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, with a QR code that viewers can use to easily access a website with more information.
“It seemed logical to do something about the building that’s right next to the kiosk,” says the history major from Cambridge, Wis., who graduated from UW-L Dec. 16. “The more I looked at the old, historical photos, the more I realized how unique they were.”
The displays were popular in the windows of Doerflinger’s, a trendy downtown department store, through much of the 20thcentury. Lorent’s project focuses on a 20-year period, 1929-49. She obtained all the images and
much of the historical information from the Area Research Center at UW-L’s Murphy Library.
Lorent’s display features holiday, fashion and community interest windows that created more foot traffic and attracted a lot of attention in their day.
While the displays were small compared to department store windows in Chicago and Milwaukee, Lorent says the windows were marketed as being “very modern” and featured clothing styles only found in larger cities at that time. “Another major selling point was ‘ready-to-wear’ clothing, which was a new innovation in garment sales,” she explains.
Lorent says the windows not only marketed products, but were art. “In a way, the displays were their own kind of art form, both showing off artistic ideas while promoting products in the store,” she notes.
And, she says, the displays reveal that department stores from that time period were locally owned and part of the community, unlike the big, box stores of today that are much more consumer-oriented. “The displays were also used to promote the community itself,” she says.
UW-L History Professor Chuck Lee says he proposed the idea of a kiosk display linking to the Internet after seeing a similar project at a conference on museums and modern technology. He says it’s a unique way to connect to the past. ”We’re actually taking a history display and bringing it to the sidewalk,” Lee explains. “It provides an interesting window to the culture of years ago.”
The Doerflinger’s display will stay in the kiosk for more than a month. It is just one of the kiosks maintained by Downtown Main Street. Lee expects students to do more historical displays in downtown kiosks in the future because the projects are economical and can be completed in a semester. He also expects them to draw a lot of interest.