Posts Tagged ‘Defunct department stores’

The lost Gimbels sign in a Midtown train station

June 30, 2016

Gimbelscloseup2016It’s not easy to see against the grimy tile wall.

Yet as you exit the PATH station beneath 33rd Street, you can just make out the letters G, L, and S.

It’s one of the last reminders of the Gimbels store, which for 76 years occupied its Herald Square spot on Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street.

Gimbels, of course, was a retail giant during the city’s 20th century department store era.

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A little more downmarket than Macy’s across the street, the two behemoths had a fabled rivalry for decades until Gimbels gave up the ghost in 1986.

A major selling point for Gimbels were the underground passageways that took 34th Street subway and PATH riders right to the store’s entrances.

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Gimbels is long gone, but the building, extensively revamped, is still there—it’s now the Manhattan Mall with a JC Penney as its flagship store.

Gimbels1905-1914mcnyA few other remnants of Gimbels continue to haunt Midtown. A faded Gimbels ad on a building on West 31st Street should still be there.

And though it has no Gimbels signage, this enchanting copper skybridge linking an upper floor of the Gimbels store to an annex over 32nd Street is a lovely site.

Hat tip to the eagle-eyed History Author Show!

[Images: MCNY]

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.

The humble beginnings of two fashion giants

September 8, 2010

Luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman has been at its current location on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street for over 70 years.

Which is why it’s easy to forget that like most massive New York City retailers, the company started small much farther down Fifth Avenue.

On a grimy, neon-lit stretch of 32nd Street just east of Fifth Avenue stands the second Bergdorf building, constructed in 1906. Here, Herman Bergdorf, immigrant tailor from Alsace, ran a successful ladies tailoring shop until he outgrew the space in the 1920s.

The Lerner company also got its start in midtown with a small namesake building.

In 1907, this once-huge mass market fashion chain—does the label even exist anymore?—opened on Seventh Avenue in the 30s as a plus-size retailer.  

See the green and yellow emblems flanking the top of the facade? They’re quite a majestic touch!

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?

Why did thieves dig up this New Yorker’s corpse?

April 2, 2010

When he died in 1876, department-store magnate Alexander Turney Stewart was one of the wealthiest men in New York City.

He opened a succession of dry-goods stores in Lower Manhattan beginning in the 1820s.

But it was his “iron palace” at Broadway and 10th Street (in photo), the first store to have dozens of departments, that made him rich and renowned.

Which must be why greedy thieves decided to dig up his body two years after he was interred in a family vault at St. Marks in the Bouwerie and hold it for ransom.

This couldn’t have been easy. The vault, covered by a stone slab, was several feet in the ground.

 

 

Once the robbers removed another slab and entered the 15 foot–long vault, they still had to open the casket carry out the decomposed body.

The ghoulish crime netted the corpse-nappers $20,000 from Stewart’s widow, who then reburied her husband on Long Island.

The A.T. Stewart store was taken over by Wanamaker’s in the 1890s. Today, it’s the site of a massive apartment building called Stewart House.

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. 

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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.

Last-minute Christmas deals and steals!

December 22, 2008

Terrific bargains on quality merchandise could be had on 14th Street—74 years ago, that is. Here’s a sampler of some of the department stores whose ads screamed across the pages of the December 19, 1934 Daily News, back when the 14th Street-Union Square area was a department store mecca.

Hearns was once one of New York’s largest department stores, located on the south side of 14th Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues since 1879. It shut down in the 1950s:

hearnsxmas Toytown! I wonder how many kids got this electric train under the tree in 1934?

 

 

 

 

 

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I couldn’t find anything about Finlay Straus jewelers; just another chain store that eventually and quietly closed up shop. They had several locations—including one across the street from Hearns:

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Not to be outdone by Hearns, Nortons, another department store on the same stretch of 14th Street, pushed their “genuine fur trimmed” coats. These are Depression prices:

nortonsxmasad

 

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. 

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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.