Herald Square in the 1950s and today

“One of the most popular shopping centers in the world” proclaims the back of this 1950s-era postcard.

It’s a nice look back at what would still be considered Herald Square’s department store glory days, before its decline into a more low-rent district.

There’s Gimbels, defunct since the 1980s, and Macy’s next door. Far off  on the right is the sign for the Hotel McAlpin, the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912.

On the right is the Hotel Martinique. Once a stately place to rent a room when Herald Square was the city’s theater district, it would become a disgusting welfare hotel in the 1970s and 1980s.

Herald Square today is spruced up, with a Bloomberg-era pedestrian plaza in front of the cleaned up Radisson Martinique.

Gimbels’ old building is covered in glass. Macy’s remains, of course, as does the McAlpin, now apartments.

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22 Responses to “Herald Square in the 1950s and today”

  1. petey Says:

    the upper picture jogged my memory, with other-than-yellow cabs in view.

  2. Alex Says:

    I recall my mom dragging us kids to go shopping wth her at Gimbels in the 1960s. We’d get bored and either play hide and seek inside the circular clothes racks, or hang out in the toys or record department. I recall there being a large clock embedded in the floor with a glass cover, I thought it was cool to walk on top of a moving clock. On the east side of Broadway, either north of south of 33rd, was a Chock Full Of Nuts luncheonette where shoppers would eat basic lunch fare like tuna sandwiches or hamburgers and drink orange or grape drinks in paper cones placed inside metal cup holders.

  3. Kevin Says:

    Actually, the Gimble’s building is 100 west 33rd St, home to Manhattan Mall and now JC Penny’s and the glass building is the Herald Center. Macy’s is not visible in the original shot as 34th St is far in the background.

    • Peter Hoffman Says:

      Correct – I had the same thought. Macy’s is around the bend to the left in front of Herald Square. It’s not visible in that photo. Gimbels is on the left, and to its right is the old Sachs 24th Street, which later became Korvettes and then the Herald Center. It’s now under renovation again.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Chock Full Of Nuts, they were everywhere! I miss them the way I miss Woolworth’s lunch counters and the assorted characters who used to nurse hot coffee and sandwiches there.

  5. Johannah Says:

    It was pretty much the same into the early 1960s. The department stores were wonderful, always an adventure. On Christmas Eve, Macy’s would stay open late, until 11 or 12, sometimes 1:00 a.m., for desperate last-minute shoppers and prices would be slashed enormously in the last hour or so. And it was still safe to walk the streets and go into the subway, carrying all your loot, even after normal 9:00 p.m. closing.

    Between Macy’s and Gimbel’s, with entrances on 33rd and 34th Streets, was an enormous Woolworth’s. There were plenty of other stores in the area. You could get just about anything you ever needed in one shopping trip to Herald Square.

    Chock full o’ Nuts was a chain restaurant known for uniform high standards of cleanliness and quality and for excellent coffee. The food was inexpensive. My favorites on the menu were thin tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches, and leave us not forget the brownies. At a time when de facto racial segregation was still very much in operation in the north, even in New York city, the stores employed mostly Black people. Jackie Robinson of baseball fame was the chain’s Vice President. Go to the Chock full o’ Nuts website for some quick shots of New York throughout the 20th century. http://www.chockfullonuts.com/history.aspx#

    Kevin is correct about Macy’s not being visible in the older photo, not just because it’s at a distance but because of the way Sixth Avenue and Broadway intersect going north. Macy’s is on 34th Street and Broadway, kind of around the bend on the left, out of sight, in the distance.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    Oh, my mistake about Macy’s. Thanks for all the additional info.

  7. Edward Turner Says:

    In the 50s the department stores Macy’s and Gimbles and sometimes Bloomingdales would have extensive adds in the two main tabloids: The News and The Mirror, of huge sales on Monday. They were the mainstays of those Sunday papers. I lived in the Bronx during that period and I don’t know how many housewives would spend the better part of the day traveling to mid Manhattan to get the bargains. They spoke of a restaurant that was a favorite. The name escapes me now. More than one movie set in New York City featured those shopping sprees as backgroud or main settings.

  8. Maxwell B. Says:

    wow. I’m not a New Yorker but I sure love the city as much as the next guy and I gotta tell you, those were some radical changes. Who would have thought of closing Broadway back in the 50’s?? Those were the days– 😛

  9. Aonghais Macinnes Says:

    I have lots of memories of coming to Herald Square in the 60s. Chock Full of Nuts stores were around forever, the Automat was a block up on 6th Ave from 34th St. Manhattan Mall was Saks 34th Street (nothing like Saks Fifth Ave!) and then became EJ Korvettes. I remember a talking elevator at one of the stores. The area was also an alcoholic’s paradise…33rd Street was home to more Treaty Stone’s Blarney Roses, and McAnn’s than you could shake a stick at…

    I also remember the big Woolworths, I think there might be a Foot Locker there now, ran all through the entire block from 34th to 33rd. They had a great lunch counter too.

    I worked at Macy’s in the 70s, when the garment district was the Garment District…watch out for those rolling rods! There used to be greasy spoons across from the loading docks on 35th Street, catering to the mostly southern African-American workers. You could go in and get eggs and grits with red-eye sauce, and wash it down with a tallboy of Bud.

  10. Herald Towers Says:

    Such a great then-and-now comparison of Herald Square! I love the old charm of the first photo. New York is slowly losing that charm year after year.

  11. Tab Says:

    im the lower photograph,the glass covered building was SAKS-34th,formerly known simply as Saks & Co. until 1924 he the uptwn and upscale Fifth Avenue store opened. There was a second story “skybridge” connectng the second floors of Saks-34th and its owner,Gimbels. We never traded at either store; we were strictly Macyites. Macy*s sold EVERYTHING but started eliminating many departments in the 1970’s. “Macy*s-own brand” was very high quality. They sold four different own brands of men’s underwear: Herald,Kempton,Supre-Macy and the highest,Saybrooke

  12. mel Says:

    who owned the butcher shop in macys

    • janet Says:

      in the mid-60’s, when I worked at macy’s, the prime butcher on 34th street/7th ave. was mickey permutter…and besides all the gorgeous meats he carried, he got the most amazing, best, chopped chicken livers delivered from new jersey in a white panel truck.

  13. Little Bear Says:

    In the top photo, the building just to the right of Gimbel’s is Saks 34th St. In the lower photo, the glass covered building is, again, Saks 34th Street. The Gimbel’s building became Manhattan Mall, and the Saks building eventually became Herald Square Mall. I worked at Saks from 1961 until it closed in 1965. Many happy memories…..

  14. janet Says:

    spelled his name wrong…it’s perlmutter.

  15. History in the Making: Earth Day Edition - The Bowery Boys Says:

    […] Herald Square in the 1950s, gazing up from Greeley Square. Worth noting are the funky, clownish-looking taxicabs. [Ephemeral New York] […]

  16. Marjorie Says:

    I remember a street level covered passageway that went from West 34th Street to West 33rd Street. I think it was behind the Chock Full O’Nuts. There were stores in the passageway. Does anybody else have information on that?

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    […] Herald Square in the 1950s, gazing up from Greeley Square. Worth noting are the funky, clownish-looking taxicabs. [Ephemeral New York] […]

  19. Don Messmer Says:

    I remember exiting the escalator there was a revolving turn table taking you away from the top stair of the escalator.the year was around 1949 in Gimbels.

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