Not much is known about Lelia Janca (left), Mary Bing and Jerry Bowers. The three women, smiling and holding hands, are dressed smartly in new blue uniforms. They were elevator girls for the Higbee Co. department store on Public Square in the early 1930s. With more than 60 departments inside its new $10 million, 12-story building, Higbee Co. had to put on a worthy show.
The three would have helped guide thousands of people between floors on beautiful wood-paneled and marble-lined elevators. Women such as Janca were touted as “movie material” by the Cleveland Press. No movie was ever made, but these smiling women invoked glamour and class for a company that was on the verge of financial collapse.
Higbee Co. filed for bankruptcy in 1935, just a year after this photo was taken and a mere four years after moving onto Public Square. Elevator girls fell by the wayside. But Higbee’s reemerged a few years later with new investors, and morphed into Dillard’s in the early ’90s. Yet the glamorous operators remain a nearly century-old symbol of excess and wealth.