Archive for the ‘Defunct department stores’ Category

Art Nouveau beauty on a Fifth Avenue building

April 24, 2014

Baltmanfifthaveentrance3In 1906, distinguished fine goods store B. Altman & Company opened this Italian Renaissance palazzo–inspired store on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

The new store helped transform “middle” Fifth Avenue from an elegant street of small shops and mansions to a commercial boulevard fronted by several department stores.

 B. Altman went out of business in 1989. Yet the lovely flagship building still stands, taken over by CUNY’s Graduate Center.

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The Fifth Avenue facade is stunning: the columns, the bays, and especially the “curving, Art Nouveau style metal and glass canopy, supported by elaborate wrought-metal brackets” above each entrance, in the words of the CUNY Graduate Center website.

Baltmanfifthaveentrance4These ornate entrances are essentially unchanged. “The B. Altman & Company building remains an exemplar of American neo-Renaissance commercial design, and a landmark in the cultural history of New York,” the CUNY site notes.

It’s a little slice of old New York beauty amid the express buses and Empire State Building crowds and throngs of shoppers.

A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city

January 9, 2014

“I am ten years old to-day, and I am going to begin to keep a diary,” wrote Catherine Elizabeth Havens on August 6, 1849.

CatherinehavensandfatherCatherine only kept her diary for a year. But lucky for us, as an adult, she had the foresight to publish it in 1919.

Now, future generations can peek into what day-to-day city life was like for kids in the mid-19th century.

Well-off kids, that is. The daughter of a businessman (with her father at right), she first lived on exclusive Lafayette Place, then in Brooklyn, where she tells us her brother “liked to go crabbing.”

Her family finally settled on Ninth Street near Fifth Avenue. “It is a beautiful house and has glass sliding doors with birds of Paradise sitting on palm trees painted on them. And back of our dining room is a piazza, and a grape vine, and we have lots of Isabella grapes every fall.”

CatherinediaryexcerptThe city is getting too built up, she writes. “I walk some mornings with my nurse before breakfast from our house in Ninth Street up Fifth Avenue to Twenty-Third Street, and down Broadway home.

“An officer stands in front of the House of Refuge on Madison Square, ready to arrest bad people, and he looks as if he would like to find some.”

Catherine goes to a girls’ school; she likes piano lessons but dislikes history. Her family occasionally attends the “brick church” on Beekman Place and Nassau Street (below). She and her school friends raise $300 to help victims of the Irish potato famine.

Like all super-aware city kids, she knows all the leading attractions. She visits Vauxhall Gardens, mentions a wax figure at Barnum’s Museum, and remembers how moved her father was when he saw Jenny Lind sing at Castle Garden.

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She gets cream puffs from Waldick’s Bakery on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street and chocolate on Broadway and Ninth Street. “Down Broadway, below Eighth Street is Dean’s candy store, and they have molasses candy that is the best in the city.”

CatherinediarymarblecemeteryShe tells us about the sounds of old New York. “Stages run through Bleecker Street and Eighth Street and Ninth Street right past our house, and it puts me right to sleep when I come home from the country to hear them rumble along over the cobblestones again.”

Catherine shops A.T. Stewart’s store on Chambers Street and likes Arnold and Constable on Canal Street, where “they keep elegant silks and satins and velvets, and my mother always goes there to get her best things.”

CatherinediarybrickchurchAnd she loves playtime in the park. “I roll my hoop and jump the rope in the afternoon, sometimes in the Parade Ground on Washington Square, and sometimes in Union Square.”

 The adult Catherine dedicated her published diary to her nieces and nephews, so perhaps she had no children of her own. I would love to know what happened to this thoughtful, literate girl, whose words give us a wonderful window into the pre-Civil War city.

[Third image: The Spangler Farmhouse, once on 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue and included in the published version of Catherine's diary]

Addresses carved into Lower East Side corners

January 2, 2014

These old-school street name carvings pop up in the city’s tenement districts—and few neighborhoods have as high a concentration of tenements as the Lower East Side and East Village.

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Avenue C above Houston Street was rebranded the East Village in the 1960s. But this red-brick residence with the graffiti tag on the upper left has the vibe of the LES.

Orchardhestercornersign

Above, turn-of-the-century Public School 42 notes its address: on the corner of Hester and Orchard Streets.

Interestingly, this is now known as the Benjamin Altman school, after the department store founder, the son of German immigrants who opened his first dry-goods store on nearby Attorney Street.

Divisonandpikesign

Division and Pike Streets are firmly in Lower East Side territory. Thanks to Ephemeral reader Iman for the great snap!

A peek into the backstory of 25 Park Place

July 22, 2013

Wonderful old signage is back in view downtown at 25 Park Place, an 1856 loft building in that Tribeca-City Hall area that was the center of the city’s dry-goods district in the 19th century.

Herculesseatingcosign

Aren’t those great rusty, weathered letters over the entrance? The Hercules Seating Company occupied the site from the 1930s at least into the early 1960s.

25Parkplacedailynews1920s

Like most New York City commercial buildings, 25 Park Place has cycled through lots of diverse tenants, each a reflection of the changing face of the neighborhood.

Built for a dry-goods firm called Lathrop, Ludington & Co., 25 Park Place hosted different businesses since then, among them a German book publishing company, a bank, a pool hall, a boxing gym, and a women’s clothing store, according to a 2007 Landmarks Committee Report.

Its last commercial incarnation was as an Off Track Betting Parlor, which had a sign that left the Hercules signage covered up for decades.

Herculesseatingcocloseup

In the 1920s, 25 Park Place had a noteworthy tenant: the New York Daily Newsaccording to the report and the accompanying photo at left.

A postcard view of Wanamaker’s on Broadway

July 15, 2013

Ninth Street between Broadway and Fourth Avenue is known as Wanamaker Place—a tribute to John Wanamaker’s department store, a premier shopping destination from the turn of the century into the 1950s.

Wanamakerspostcard

The two buildings in this vintage postcard (I love the carriages scrambling around Broadway that comprised the traffic of the day) were both part of the Wanamaker empire.

The smaller structure, an 1862 cast-iron beauty next to Grace Church, became the first Wanamaker store. In 1902, Wanamaker built the taller annex next door.

Today, the spot that once housed Wanamaker’s is occupied by the giant Stewart House apartment building. And the annex? Kmart has been its main occupant since 1996.

A riot sparked by a rumor erupts on 125th Street

April 18, 2013

DailynewsharlemriotheadlineThere are differing accounts of the violence and mayhem. But one thing seems clear: it all started because of a rumor.

In March 1935, a Puerto Rican teen was caught shoplifting a pen knife at the Kress Five and Ten store (“known for its reluctance to hire black clerks,”) on West 125th Street.

“A Negro woman saw store employees search the thief; she became hysterical and shouted that the prisoner was being beaten by his captors, although he was not harmed, and soon the word got about that a Negro boy had been killed,” summarized The New York Times that week.

Police Officer Leading Injured ManBy evening, Communist organizations and a group calling itself the Young Liberators gathered outside the Kress store, handing out flyers that claimed the boy had been brutally beaten.

Crowds grew, and Harlem simmered with rage. Mayor La Guardia urged calm, but at about 6 p.m., rioting had begun.

“Roving bands of Negros, with here and there a sprinkling of white agitators, stoned windows, set fire to several stores, and began looting,” reported a separate Times story. “By 1:30 a.m., the worst of the rioting was ended, but sporadic outbreaks occurred up until 4 a.m.”

The next day, order was restored. “Overall, three African Americans were killed and nearly sixty were injured,” reports Blackpast.org.  “Seventy five people, mostly blacks, were arrested by the police. The riot caused over $200 million in property damage.”

Harlem1939125thstreet8thave

An investigation found that widespread discrimination, police aggression, and racial injustice contributed to the violence.

What’s called the Race Riot of 1935 was a forerunner of riots in 1943 and 1964, and has been deemed a sign that the “optimism and hopefulness of the Harlem Renaissance was dead.”

[Above photo by Sid Grossman: Eighth Avenue and 125th Street, that site of the riot, in 1939. Second photo: Bettmann/Corbis; the teenage shoplifter and the police. Top: New York Daily News newspaper headline]

Celebrating winter with old Brooklyn businesses

January 23, 2013

The Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful digitized collection of late 19th century business cards from hundreds of shops and companies located in the teeming city of Brooklyn.

JVDubernellcard

They’re whimsical and imaginative—and some honor the cold weather while advertising their goods, like J.V. Dubernell, tailor.

His shop was at 331 and 333 Fulton Avenue, and his suits sound kind of expensive for the era.

Bostonstorebusinesscard

That’s some sled illustrated in this card, for this clothing store, which comes off like the L.L. Bean of the time. Check out these prices for trendy wool cloaks!

Amespaintdealercard

This sweet scene advertises the business of a paint dealer. Sumpter Street is in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, quite a bit away from the other businesses, which are located closer to downtown Brooklyn in what was the fashionable shopping area of the time.

Perhaps a paint store was not welcome on refined Fulton Street?

Holiday deals at a defunct city department store

December 19, 2012

Finlay Straus describes itself as a jeweler/optician in this Depression-era New York Daily News ad from December 19, 1934.

Finlaystraussad2

But based on the merchandise they’re pushing as part of a Christmas sale (and their locations, like Fordham Road and Fulton Street), the store is more like a Macy’s or a Target—selling the “practical” gifts that make good presents for people you don’t know very well or are easy to please.

Finlaystraussad

Seventy-eight years to the day after this ad ran, some of these gifts still pass as okay, such as appliances like mixers and juicers as well as tableware.

Of course, the typewriter, radio, and cigarette case/lighter have been relegated to the dustbin of Christmas presents past.

Are these the last wood escalators in New York?

November 29, 2012

It’s 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 wood escalators that still ferry customers between floors.

Could they really date to 1902, as the store implies here?

Head to the middle of the store to find them, and though the escalators on each floor have wood handrails, only the ones between the eighth and ninth floors have wood steps.

Don’t miss the warnings (not in the photos) about avoiding them if you’re wearing stilettos!

A 19th century pickpocket fleeces New York

July 12, 2012

Criminals in the 19th century had such illustrious nicknames.

Take Old Mother Hubbard, for instance. Reportedly born in 1828 in Ireland as Margaret Brown, she came to the U.S. and found work as a housekeeper—then embarked on a 50-year side career as a notorious pickpocket and shoplifter.

“She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again,” states Professional Criminals of America, written by NYPD head Thomas Byrnes in 1886.

Old Mother Hubbard stole pretty much anything she could in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and she practiced her craft typically dressed in black silk.

After a stint in prison in Illinois, she arrived in New York City in 1884 and joined the inner circle of top fence Marm Mandelbaum. But not for long.

That year, she was nabbed stealing a purse from a shopper at Macy’s, then on 14th Street (left) and booked at Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue.

Described as a “white-haired, wrinkled woman” by The New York Times, she served three months at Blackwell’s Island.

Upon her release, she was rearrested for crimes committed in Boston and sentenced to prison.

The official record goes cold after that—perhaps she died in a Boston jail.


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