The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s

For decades it’s been hidden behind billboards or wrapped in a giant faux shopping bag. Many shoppers never even notice it.

But old photos reveal a five-story building (right, in 1906), sticking out like a sore thumb in front of the world’s most iconic department store.

Although Macy’s leases ad space on it, the five-story building has never been owned by the store and is one of the most famous “holdouts” in New York real estate history.

It all started around 1900, when Macy’s, then located on West 14th Street, began picking up land in Herald Square for its huge new shopping mecca.

Macy’s had a verbal agreement to buy a plot at the corner of 34th and Broadway. But an agent acting on behalf of rival department store Siegel-Cooper scored the plot instead.

Reportedly the agent wanted Macy’s to give Siegel-Cooper its 14th Street store in exchange for the land at 34th Street.

But Macy’s wouldn’t have it. The store was built around the plot.

In 1903, Siegel-Cooper put up the five-story building there today.

[Above, how Macy's covered up the building in 1936 and in the 1960s]

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39 Responses to “The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s”

  1. Painters New York Says:

    I can’t believe that the building is so old, it just look like as if it has been constructed recently. I would like to visit this Macy’s building.

  2. Alex Baugh Says:

    This is amazing. I have been shopping in Macy’s my whole life and never noticed this. I do remember when the ground floor store of that building was a Nedick’s and explaining to my California cousin why he had to wear shoes walking around New York, while we ate hot dogs and has orange drinks there.

  3. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    Hi Wild,

    Thanks for the story. I have many memories of Macy’s, going back to childhood.

    Your “70s” photo of Macy’s is actually earlier than the 1970′s. There are “non-yellow” medallion cabs at the corner by the holdout building. According to “Taxicabs of NYC” in Wikipedia, all NYC medallion cabs had to be all yellow as of 1967. Non-yellow cabs are also a childhood memory, that’s what clued me.

    Fun, as always, thanks.

  4. History Lesson: Did you know that there’s a… - - Hosted Says:

    [...] Did you know that there’s a separate building embedded in the corner of Macy’s Herald Sq… Back in 1903, department store Siegel-Cooper built the five story structure to spite their rival, who was very publicly buying up space in Herald Square. But Macy’s spited them right back, putting up their iconic flagship around the smaller structure. Ever since, they’ve been covering it up with Macy’s ads, and most people don’t even notice it’s there. [Ephemeral New York] [...]

  5. Goggla Says:

    Very cool. I wonder if it has a separate interior as well and what it’s used for – it looks like the ads cover all but one floor of windows.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    I think there’s a Sunglasses Hut on the first floor. And as Alex mentioned above, it used to house a Nedick’s.

  7. Alex Says:

    This Alex remembers the Nedick’s store as well. There were only stand-up counters for customers to eat and drink, but it did a lot of business.

  8. Dee Says:

    Fascinating. But the question remains: How is it that Macy’s, then and now, has the right to put up the billboards and banners that pretty much obscure the building? They must have some control over it, no?

  9. Tom Miller Says:

    I wrote about this a year or so ago … here’s a little more detail:

    http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2010/03/little-building-under-big-bag-at-macys.html

  10. proudliberal1947 Says:

    Boy does that bring back memories, I thank the one writer who remembered the Old Nedicks, wow, were does the time go. Remember being a kid and walking through the Macy’s store, wow for got all about it.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Over the years it’s housed different stores, but only on the first floor.
      I don’t know who owns it. Macy’s I’m sure could buy it if they want, but I guess on principle they won’t.

  11. Luke Says:

    Is there anything in it now? I would imagine that as much money as Siegel-Cooper makes from Macy’s, they would make even more leasing out the interior.

  12. Adam B Says:

    I moved out of NY a while ago, but I used to walk past that corner a lot when I took the LIRR at Penn Station nearby. Do I remember correctly – is there a plaque or some other sort of marker on the corner building, saying that that piece of property is indeed not part of Macy’s?

  13. Top Posts — WordPress.com Says:

    [...] The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s For decades it’s been hidden behind billboards or wrapped in a giant faux shopping bag. Many shoppers never even notice [...] [...]

  14. Lisa Says:

    Seymour Durst published a book in ’84 called “Holdouts!”, chronicling this phenomena. Unfortunately now out of print, so a used copy will cost ya.

  15. elizaw Says:

    We had something like that in Spokane, though granted it wasn’t as iconic as the corner of New York’s Macey’s. Our biggest hospital stands on the South Hill– Grand Street has to go around it, it’s so big. Yet if you look between two of the huge buildings in the complex, you’ll see an old-fashioned white house smack between them– fairly large, quite pretty. The locals call it “Mary’s House”.

  16. Behind the big Macy’s shopping bag building at Herald Square | Doobybrain.com Says:

    [...] Ephemeral New York digs up this trivia gem about a small 5-story building sitting at the corner of Macy’s Herald Square in NYC. The building, which is located at 34th Street and Broadway holds a large Macy’s shopping bag at its rooftop but is actually not owned by Macy’s. It is instead owned by a rival department store company named Siegel-Cooper (although I bet the rivalry is nothing like it probably was in the early 1900′s when the plots of land were being developed). [via] Starbucks to close 9 (maybe 10) stores in Manhattan [...]

  17. M. Watanen Says:

    Part of my families’ lore is that Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa owned either a dry goods store or hat store and sold the land to Macy’s and lived comfortably ever after. Is there a way to find out what stores were there before Macy’s and who owned them???

  18. ledfrog Says:

    Does anyone know when the two balconies were removed? I noticed in the 1936 picture they are there, but not in the shot from the 1960s. Along with the balconies, other changes that were made including the rooftop lighting, the double-flag poles that adorned each corner of the building and the rooftop railing. I was just curious if some (or all) of these elements were removed due to safety concerns or something else.

  19. Herald Towers Says:

    We’re right across Herald Square from Macy’s and have always wondered the background behind that building. Great photos!

  20. Holdout buildings that refused the wrecking ball « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the story of a little-known but very recognizable holdout building in the middle of Macy’s. Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  21. The Edmonton Tourist Says:

    If Macy’s doesn’t own it, how are they able to cover it up?

  22. wildnewyork Says:

    Macy’s leases ad space from the building, so they can do what they want with it–which is to cover it up.

  23. johnny Says:

    If you go to Google Books, type in macy’s, and choose Free Google Books, there is a wonderful book abut the history of macys, which describes the purchasing of the land on 34th street in detail. “The Romance of a Great Store”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ZKwpAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA3&dq=macys&hl=en&sa=X&ei=iJpeT9LAKcXv0gGl97ytBw&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=macys&f=false

  24. Florence Marmor Says:

    I have lived in New York City all my life and I, too, remember the Nedick’s there with the counters and standing up to have a drink there. I never realized, though, I should have, I think, that this was not part of Macy’s. Thanks for this great story and for all the other stories about these little buildings. Before I read the story about the building that’s covered up by Macy’s on 34fh St., I thought you were talking about the round Macy’s in Elmhurst, Queens. There was a tiny, holdout building there, too. Macy’s had to build around that one, too.

  25. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks so much! I’ll have to check out the Elmhurst Macy’s.

    • Florence Marmor Says:

      I have a feeling the little building at the Elmhurst Macy’s is no longer there. I think I remember that it had been sold and something was there in it’s place.

  26. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    Hi All,

    Here is a link to the full story on the Elmhurst Macy’s “holdout”.

    http://placesnomore.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/sendeksandmacys/

    Cheers.

  27. wildnewyork Says:

    Fascinating, thanks Force Tube. What a terrific story…and a horribly ugly Macy’s, but oh well.

  28. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    W,

    I can’t fault you for thinking the Queens Boulevard Macy’s “ugly”; it’s in that unfortunate period between “new” and “classic”. It’s just dated. But when it went up, I remember being taken with its design that was then thought modern and dramatic.

    I think our perceptions of buildings change over time. To cite an example, who thought anyone would want to protect Manhattan’s white brick apartment buildings? Well, they do now.

    http://therealdeal.com/blog/2012/07/19/new-condos-rise-in-maligned-white-brick-buildings/

  29. wildnewyork Says:

    Point well taken, especially about the white brick buildings. I do think the Macy’s looks like a giant-size dial from an old appliance though….

  30. The last wood escalators in New York City « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the perfect time of the year to visit Macy’s: for holiday shopping, browsing Christmas displays, and to pay homage to the wonderfully creaky old [...]

  31. The Titanic love story of Isidor and Ida Straus | Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] in the dry-goods business, and by¬†1902, he and his brother co-owned Abraham & Straus and Macy’s, opening the famous Herald Square store that [...]

  32. Caro Says:

    About 100 years ago I worked at the corporate offices for Macy’s New York (alrite more like 25 years ago) and I had to help research, write & make a slide show for a presentation then MNY Present, Mr. Yalof was making to some visiting British retailers. I learned all this history at that time (thank you for the refresher!) because Macy’s had a wonderful historical archive I could use (pre-Internet, you know). Did you also know that the Macy’s building was put up in two stages and the original building went from 34th-35th on Broadway but only went about half-way down 34th? The Stearns then built the 2nd half later (I can’t remember exactly how much later) and there was ANOTHER holdout building on the corner of 35th & 7th. I believe it was a flower shop or something when I worked there. I haven’t been to the Herald Square store in years, but you could always tell where the buildings were joined because the floors don’t match up exactly, hence the 2 or 3 steps in the middle of the 1st floor and (when I worked there) the strange slope in the middle of the 7th floor.

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