Samuel & Albert S. Lavenson: Two Generations of Jewish Pioneer Merchandisers & Capwells Department Stores

Samuel & Albert S. Lavenson

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Samuel Lavenson was born in 1829 in Europe.

He arrived in Sacramento, California in 1851.

In Sacramento, Sam Lavenson operated Locke & Lavenson, which manufactured tents and wagon covers and sold all sorts of floor covering, curtains, shades, etc.

His Samento firm was founded in 1855.


In 1857, Sam Lavenson helped organize Congregation B’nai Israel of Sacramento.


Albert Levenson

Albert Lavenson, Capwell's Department Store, #WS1452

Albert Lavenson, Capwell’s Department Store,

Sam’s son, Albert, was born in Sacra­mento in 1865.

In 1890,he moved to the Bay area and went to work for Harris C. Capwell, who had a small dry goods business known as The Lace House, located at 12th and Washington, in Oakland.

Albert Lavenson did everything from selling to bookkeeping, and eventu­ally became Capwell’s partner and Vice-President of the firm – Capwell’s Department Store.

The H.C. Capwell Company grew rapidly and in 1912 it moved to a large building at 14th and Clay, Oakland.

The Lavenson-­Capwell partnership lasted for thirty years, and it became Oakland’s major department store.

Capwell’s employed over 800 people by the time they moved to their 14th and Clay locations.

Capwell's Department Store, Oakland, Vintage Postcard

Capwell’s Department Store, Oakland,
Vintage Postcard


Albert S. Lavenson was a man who gave skilled and devoted leadership to Oakland.

He was a lifelong booster of Oakland, with great faith in its future.

Albert Lavenson was an organizer and director of the Commercial Club, which developed into the Oakland Chamber of Commerce.

He was a music lover and was largely responsible for the con­struction of the Music Building at Mills College.

He also supported (anonymously) many young artists, some of whom became nation­ally well known.

Albert Lavenson was active in the Liberty Loan Drives, Red Cross, Community Chest, Children’s Hospital, and other civic causes.

In March 1930 ,Albert Lavenson was honored by a citywide testimonial dinner sponsored by the Oakland service clubs and civic groups memorializing the quality of his community concerns and contributions.


In Jewish life, Albert Lavenson was a leader in welfare work and in synagogue life.

His philosophy was, “make your standard of living your standard of giving,” and he pressured those who lived lav­ishly to give generously.

Actually, he himself lived modestly, but gave liberally.

As President of Temple Sinai he worked hard for adequate sup­port of its programs and activities.

In 1927, a year after he retired from managing Capwell’s, he accepted the chairmanship of the Jewish Welfare Campaign of the East Bay.


In 1894, Albert Lavenson married Amy Furth, daughter of Gold Rush merchant Simon Furth.

Amy and Albert Lavenson had one child, Alma.


Albert Lavenson died in 1930.

Most of his estate went to a chari­table and educational foundation he had established.

Capwell's Famous Rooftop Garden, Vintage Postcard

Capwell’s Famous Rooftop Garden,
Vintage Postcard


For more information see the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  •  Albert S. Lavenson: Merchandising Wizard, Sacramento & Oakland, California, by Dr. Norton B. Stern, WSJH, Vol. 41, Issue #1

Any more information on the Lavensons and Capwell’s Department Store would be appreciated.