Archive for the ‘Defunct department stores’ Category

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.

Vintage matchbook ads for Brooklyn businesses

July 9, 2012

The one downside to the fact that so few people smoke these days? So few businesses hand out free matches as advertising vehicles.

But for most of the 20th century, matchbook ads were a popular way to get a company name and service out there—as these now-defunct Brooklyn businesses did in the 1940s.

Loeser’s was a legendary department store on Fulton Street, Brooklyn’s main shopping strip since the late 19th century. It closed in 1952.

I love this public service ad from Brooklyn Edison—now part of Con Edison, of course—for electric stoves. Cooking “electrically” probably did cut down on kitchen fires.

The Hotel Half Moon was built in 1927 to rival the fancy new hotels going up in Atlantic City. Instead, it hosted conventions, became a maternity hospital in the 1940s, and was torn down in the 1990s to make way for a senior citizen housing.

In 1941, the Half Moon earned a place in mob history: Murder, Inc. turncoat Abe “Kid Twist” Reles plunged to his death from his sixth floor room there under mysterious circumstances.

Mayflower 9-3800! But why was Coney Island’s phone exchange called Mayflower?

The “End of the 14th Street Crosstown Line”

May 7, 2012

In 1936, artist Reginald Marsh, known as a social realist for his depictions of a bustling, sensual, grotesque city, painted this scene of the old clashing with the new on 14th Street.

“Painted during an era of labor unrest in Union Square, ‘End of 14th Street Crosstown Line’ juxtaposes construction workers tearing up old trolley car lines with picketers demonstrating against Ohrbach’s, a store that had refused to allow its workers to unionize,” writes the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which owns the painting.

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.

Three centuries and three views of Union Square

February 13, 2012

As one of the first parks in the city (established in 1815 as a public commons), Union Square has been the subject of many early photos.

This one below is from 1893. published in the wonderful book New York Then and Now, it looks west at the south end of Fourth Avenue and East 14th Street.

“This photo was probably taken on an early Sunday morning, for on 14th Street—a popular and important shopping center—stores are closed, there is little traffic, and only a few pedestrians are evident,” reads the caption.

At right is the equestrian statue of George Washington; farther back is one of Lafayette. On the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street is the Domestic Sewing Machine Building. On the northwest corner of 14th and University is the nine-story Lincoln Building, from 1885.

Here’s the same stretch in 1974, when Union Square was seedy and derelict. The statues have been moved inside the park; the Domestic Sewing Machine Building is gone. Mays, a discount department store, dominated the south side of Union Square.

Now, in 2012, Union Square is luxe again. We’ve got Whole Foods instead of Mays, which departed in the late 1980s. A glass condo rises on 14th and University Place. The one constant: the Lincoln Building, on the right, now housing a Diesel clothing store.

Christmas ads for long-gone Brooklyn businesses

November 28, 2011

There was no such day as Black Friday in late 19th century Brooklyn, of course.

But the commercialization of the Christmas holidays was certainly in full swing, with businesses on Fulton Street—the city’s premier shopping drag at the time—coming up with homey images of Santa Claus and Christmas trees to sell their wares.

This card, from a grocery and tea dealer at 493 Fulton, shows as heartfelt a holiday scene as any ad you’ll see today: a well-dressed mother, a candlelit tree, a little girl watching from behind a curtain.

S. A. Byers Fine Boots and Shoes, at 527 Fulton, was trying to sell “elegant slippers for the holidays” by giving us a jolly Santa, crackling fire, stockings filled with gifts, and holly leaves.

These ads come from the Fulton Street Trade Card Collection, a database of old business cards made available by the Brooklyn Public Library.

When Woolworth’s was on Fifth Avenue

September 18, 2011

Fifth Avenue around 39th Street is a fancy location, anchored then and now by Lord & Taylor.

Yet back in the 1940s, a Woolworth’s—once famous for their red and white cheapo lunch counters, plus bin after bin of household junk for sale—managed to stake a claim to the corner.

This postcard depicts a Fifth Avenue that is surprisingly calm. Traffic goes two ways, and I don’t see any street lights or traffic signals.

Artistic license, or perhaps it was a quieter place then?

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.