Mills Building (1897)

Paul Elder's office inside the Mills Building in 1897.
Paul Elder’s shop inside the Mills Building in 1897.

Throughout the 1890s, William Doxey’s employee Paul Elder watched and learned. By 1897 Elder decided that he had learned enough to strike out on his own. In August, he became an independent publisher’s agent and opened a one-room bookshop on the mezzanine of the Mills Building. An advertising card from this period offers an ‘installment library,’ where the reader could collect, one book per month, the entire works of Shakespeare or Dickens.

The room is decorated with several pottery figurines including a bust of Shakespeare, a vase of fresh flowers on the main table, and collages advertising editions of Balzac and Francis Parkman. This apparently was a room intended to entertain customers, though surely a mezzanine room inside the Mills Building would have attracted only a tiny fraction of the foot traffic that Doxey’s street-level bookstore in the Palace Hotel did. But more importantly from Elder’s standpoint, this room was almost certainly used to cement Elder’s new partnership with Morgan Shepard, and was probably where they planned their new store on Post St.

The Mills Building today, at the corner of Montgomery and Bush. The facade and
The Mills Building at the corner of Montgomery and Bush, photographed on 18 April 2013, the 107th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. The building survived the earthquake, but was burned out in the subsequent fire. Later a new interior was built inside the standing shell.

The lighting in the room must have been rather harsh: there is a fascinating central chandelier and several wall sconces, but they contain only bare light bulbs: not a single lampshade in sight. There may also have been plenty of natural light coming in from behind the viewer, as all the light bulbs are all off but there is plenty of light for the photograph.