Posts Tagged ‘Ladies’ Mile’

Three views of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street

March 19, 2012

In 1901, when this first photo was taken, Sixth Avenue and 20th Street was the center of the city’s posh shopping district.

It was part of the fabled Ladies’ Mile, where stores like Siegel-Cooper, Adams & Co., and Hugh O’Neill’s Dry Goods Store sold fashion and furnishings.

“By 1915, all these stores had failed, merged, or moved farther uptown,” states the caption to the photo, which was published in New York Then and Now.

Here’s the crowd of well-dressed, well-to-do women in front of O’Neill’s. A hansom cab waits, a gas lamp will light the street at dusk, and the Sixth Avenue El is hurtling down the tracks, bringing smoke and more shoppers to the 18th Street station.

By 1975, when the second photo (also from New York Then and Now) was shot, the area had become grungy and grim.

It hadn’t been a viable shopping district of any kind at least since the El was torn down in 1939. The gas lamppost has been replaced, and the lovely cast-iron buildings support light manufacturing and small offices.

Today, in 2012, it’s a bustling shopping strip again—and residential area too. The O’Neill building has been renovated into pricey luxury condos.

The ground-floor store is home to a bank branch, of course.

The ladies who watch over Ladies’ Mile

April 18, 2010

A row of six life-size caryatids—decorating the facade of stately 118 Fifth Avenue—peer out at the street below.

When 118 Fifth was built, these female figures would spend their days watching other females.

Fifth Avenue at the time was part of Ladies’ Mile, the premier shopping district for Gilded Age New York women.

Lavish department stores such as B. Altman, Siegel Cooper, and Arnold Constable catered to the desires of these rich wives and mothers, who arrived in elegant carriages looking for the latest fashions and furnishings.

With so many shoppers and shopkeepers concentrated between Broadway and Sixth Avenue south of 23rd Street, it was safe for women to shop unaccompanied, which they did here until the Depression, when opulent stores moved northward.

Since the 1990s, Ladies Mile has had its comeback. But does anyone notice these figures above them?

Where Macy’s got its modest start

July 1, 2009

$11.06. That amount was reportedly what Rowland Hussey Macy earned on the first day his new dry-goods store opened for business in a small building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street in 1858.

MacysBut after that slow start, the R.H. Macy store began grossing tens of thousands of dollars a year. It became a full-fledged department store in 1877 and eventually occupied many storefronts along West 14th Street (like the one in the photo at left).

Fourteenth Street was a more upscale shopping district at the end of the 19th century. But even then, department store moguls could see that the future of retail was farther uptown. 

So in 1902, Macy’s packed it up and relocated to a colossal new store at Herald Square on 34th Street—its current quarters today.

This weekend, Macy’s is sponsoring its 33rd annual Fireworks Spectacular, this time over the Hudson River. Macy’s pledged the first show as a tribute to America’s Bicentennial, and it quickly morphed into an Independence Day tradition.

Shopping along Ladies’ Mile: then and now

May 30, 2009

The Bed Bath & Beyond store on Sixth Avenue and 18th Street isn’t an ordinary big-box retail structure. Take a look at the massive bronze columns and huge lanterns flanking the entrance; they tip you off to the building’s elegant retail past. 

Bedbathandbeyond

It originally housed the Siegel-Cooper Department Store, opened in 1896. Until World War I, it was one of the city’s premier shopping destinations.

Carrying the latest fashions, gourmet foods, and furnishings, Siegel-Cooper was a star along Ladies’ Mile, the department-store district between 14th and 23rd Streets on Sixth Avenue that also featured retail giants such as B. Altman’s, McCreery’s, the Simpson Crawford Company, and the Hugh O’Neill Store.

All of these retailers are out of business now, though B. Altman’s moved to midtown as the city—and its main shopping district—inched northward. 

Siegelcooperoldphoto

This turn of the last century photo shows the same view of the building’s entrance as the first photo. The bronze columns and lanterns greeted customers then just as they do now.

B. Altman’s Skunk Coat: Only $395

November 14, 2008

For the sophisticated New York City woman circa 1941: her very own “greatcoat” made from dyed or natural skunk. The copy says, “A ‘good investment’ fur…a Christmas gift that will make her eyes sparkle!”

This ad ran in the December 9, 1941 edition of The New York Times:

skunkcoatad skunkcoatad2

MU 9-7000, for Murray Hill

B. Altman and Company was one of New York’s most fashionable department stores, starting out on Third Avenue and 10th Street in 1865, then moving to Ladies Mile on 19th Street and Sixth Avenue in the late 1800s. In 1906, Altman’s opened its famous block-long flagship building at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. 

baltmans

When department stores all over the city fell out of favor, so did B. Altman. It closed in 1989; the Fifth Avenue store is now CUNY’s Graduate Center.

All that’s left of the Kesner Department Store

August 6, 2008

Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street has been the center of a prime shopping district since after the Civil War, first as one end of elegant Ladies’ Mile, then as a seedier discount store area, and now a bustling big box corridor.

Burlington Coat Factory has occupied 707 Sixth Avenue for about a decade. Still, several columns on the outside of the cast-iron building feature decorative terra cotta tiles with the letter K on them.

The K probably stands for Kesner, as this was the J. L. Kesner department store from 1911 to 1913. Just a teeny reminder of the businesses and companies that preceded today’s mega-retailers.

Summer shopping along Ladies’ Mile

July 11, 2008

Today’s scary-skinny models have nothing on this no-waisted woman, from a 1905 magazine ad. The summer suit she’s modeling looks very chic, but check out the length of the dress; it still wasn’t socially acceptable for a female to reveal her ankles, even in July! 

Ladies’ Mile, between 5th and 8th Avenues from 14th to 23rd Streets, was the SoHo of the late 1800s. One of the many luxe department stores that started there, Best & Company, became known for their kid’s clothes.

Best & Company left Ladies’ Mile in 1910, as the area slid into seediness, moving to Fifth and 35th Street and then 51st Street, finally shutting its doors in 1970. The era of the department store had begun to end.


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