Archive for the ‘Defunct department stores’ Category

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.

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. has a terrific article and fab photos.


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