Archive for the ‘Defunct department stores’ Category

The 23rd Street “shopping district” by night

August 29, 2011

Judging by where the Flatiron Building is on the left of this vintage postcard, this looks like 23rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

On this block, venerable department stores like Stern’s have been replaced by Home Depot and a shoe store named . . . Shoegasm.

The mystery readers on a Cooper Square facade

August 12, 2011

Boutique-ization is running wild in Cooper Square these days. Luckily some wisps of a much older Cooper Square haven’t been bulldozed and turned into shiny hotels.

The lovely bas relief below graces the entrances at numbers 34-36.

It depicts a Goddess-like woman lying back beside an oil lamp, an open book balanced on her knees.

So why the visual reference to knowledge and literature? A little digging into the building’s history doesn’t turn up any answers.

The Renaissance Revival structure apparently had nothing to do with Cooper Union up the street; it was built in 1894 as a warehouse, according to this 1999 NoHo Historic District report. Today, it’s the home of the Village Voice.

An alternate address, 394-396 Bowery, matches that of the Boston Excelsior Store, reveals several early 1900s archived New York Times articles.

But what connection that store may have to books or learning remains unknown.

When Lower Manhattan had a “Radio Row”

July 15, 2011

The Garment District, Flower District, Swing Street—the city has always been chopped into specialty areas.

And in the 1920s with the rise of broadcast radio, Cortlandt and Dey Streets were home to Manhattan’s radio district, aka Radio Row.

The row was more than that; dozens of shops lined local streets.

“Cortlandt once ran from the Hudson River up to Broadway, but now only one block—from Trinity Place to Broadway—remains,” wrote The New York Times in 1981.

“The rest, displaced by the World Trade Center, was a rabbit warren of electrical shops with books on radios stacked up on sidewalks and piles of tubes, condensers, old radios and old radio cabinets set alongside.”

Radio Row adapted to changing times in the 1950s. Stores that sold televisions and hi-fis moved in alongside the radio shops.

Its demise had little to do with the fall of radio and instead can be blamed on the World Trade Center.

In 1961, politicians called for the use of eminent domain to raze Radio Row’s small blocks so the Twin Towers could be built.

Radio Row’s store owners tried fighting it out in court. They lost, getting just $3,000 each from the state to go elsewhere.

[Top photo: Radio Row in the 1960s, copyright Antique Broadcast Classified. Right: a crowd gathers on November 22, 1963, after JFK is assassinated in this Library of Congress photo]

A 10th Street bakery coins the “breadline”

June 13, 2011

In November 1876, Louis Fleischmann opened his Vienna Bakery at newly posh Broadway and Tenth Street (below, between Grace Church and the A.T. Stewart department store, in a NYPL 1891 photo).

The plan was to introduce New Yorkers to breads and sweet treats made with his family’s packaged yeast—a novelty at the time.

The Vienna Bakery was a huge hit. But soon, it began serving a different kind of client: starving New Yorkers. That’s how the term “breadline” was born.

“The idea of its establishment came to Mr. Fleischmann when he noticed a crowd of hungry tramps standing over the grating at the bakery at Tenth Street and Broadway, scenting the hot loaves that were being turned out in the basement,” wrote The New York Times in Fleischmann’s 1904 obituary.

“Mr. Fleischmann offered to feed one of the men, and soon a line formed. It was then that he determined to give bread to every hungry man who would come for it.

“The breadline grew until at night as many as 500 loaves were handed out to the men. . . . In winter coffee was given with the bread, and when the philanthropist saw a man in line hurry off to his home with his loaf instead of eating it himself, he had the man followed and aided the family.”

After Fleischmann’s death, the breadline persisted—among many other breadlines that had popped up in the city.

[Above photo, Fleischmann's breadline in 1913]

The Gothic castle that once stood in Inwood

May 31, 2011

No, not the Cloisters, the magnificent reconstructed abbey that dominates the neighborhood today.

We’re talking about Libby Castle, just about the most impressive mansion among all of the ostentatious 19th century estates built in this hilly stretch of Manhattan, kind of a rural retreat for the city’s superrich.

Originally named Woodcliff Castle in 1855 by its first owner, importer Augustus C. Richards, it passed through several bigwig owners in its short life span.

William “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall fame later lived there, as did department store millionaire A.T. Stewart, who bequeathed it to his business partner, William Libbey (yep, the castle’s name is a misspelling).

By 1920, Libby Castle and some land surrounding it were owned by John D. Rockefeller. He bulldozed it to build the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park in the 1930s.

Myinwood.net has a terrific article and fab photos.

The cut-rate beginning of Barneys New York

March 24, 2011

Like Saks and Henri Bendel, Barneys New York has long been the epitome of a high-end fashion retailer.

Which makes these unabashedly low-end ads, found on a matchbook from the 1930s or 1940s, all the more interesting.

Seems that luxury department store Barneys was once bargain basement Barney’s, a menswear store openly hawking factory rejects, auction stocks, and showroom models.

Launched by Barney Pressman in 1923, the store began as a 200-foot hole in the wall on Seventh Avenue at 17th Street.

Barney may have been gimmicky, but he also sold quality—soon luring devoted clients to a part of Manhattan known more for its Irish pubs than clothing stores.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Barney’s son edged the store into the luxury realm.

In the 1970s, Barney’s added a women’s department; in the 1990s, the store (without the apostrophe) decamped the now-blocklong 17th Street store for the Upper East Side, where Barneys holds court today.

The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s

March 3, 2011

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]

Hollywood tough guys raised in Manhattan

December 27, 2010

Both acting legends were born in 1899, but under very different financial circumstances.

James Cagney started life in a tenement on Avenue D and East Eighth Street but grew up on East 96th Street in mostly German Yorkville.

“Yorkville was then a street-brawling neighborhood, and Jimmy became a champion battler,” stated his 1986 New York Times obituary.

“As a catcher for a Yorkville amateur baseball team, he played a game in 1919 at Sing Sing prison, where five former schoolmates were serving terms.”

Young Cagney went to Stuyvesant High School, then a semester at Columbia. He had jobs at the New York Sun, the New York Public Library, and Wanamaker’s department store on Astor Place.

Good thing he learned tap dancing as a kid. He was able to pick up extra cash doing vaudeville, which led to roles on Broadway and in movies.

Meanwhile, on West 103rd Street, Humphrey Bogart was growing up affluent, a descendant of the Bogaert family, who came to New Amsterdam from Holland in 1652.

Son of a doctor and suffragette, Bogart attended Trinity School, then Phillips Andover academy, where he was expelled.

His family money slowly draining away, he went into the Navy, then tried his hand at screenwriting before turning to acting.

“I was born to be indolent,” he reportedly said. “And this was the softest of rackets.”

[Photo: Bogart at age nine, from Upper West Side Story by Peter Salwen]

Fulton Street shopping at the turn of the century

December 20, 2010

Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street isn’t exactly the borough’s most sophisticated shopping strip these days.

But at the turn of the 20th century, it was a hub for major department stores and fine specialty shops—such as these found on a couple of old business cards.

A quick search through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives shows that the A.C. Flatley people placed lots of ads in that paper in the 1880s and 1890s.

There’s a Hoyt and Teale Clothiers in Brooklyn as early as the 1870s. Their shop was at 607 Fulton Street—a few doors down from the Teale & Co. store at 611 Fulton.

 

Holiday toy shopping at Gimbels in 1934

December 8, 2010

In the thick of the Depression, I wonder how many lucky New York kids got one of these cool toys for Christmas.

That police car with the electric lights would be worth a lot more than $1.31 today. As for the cowboy suit, it comes with a gun and bullets. Can you even buy a slightly realistic looking toy gun these days?

This ad comes from a December 1934 edition of the Daily News. Gimbels was huge then, as anyone who has ever seen Miracle on 34th Street knows.

The department store giant started  held on until the mid-1980s. A faded Gimbels ad on 30th Street is all that’s left.


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