Posts Tagged ‘Herald Square’

The chariot race sign in a young Herald Square

April 24, 2011

This enchanting postcard features a moonlit Herald Square looking up Broadway, with the elevated tracks and tall office buildings and stores glowing from within.

And then there’s an image of a Roman Chariot race in the background, all lit up majestically in the night.

A gigantic display of light that went up in 1910, it was used by a variety of advertisers over the years, according to the American Sign Museum:

“In 1910, the great chariot race sign in New York City was one of the most famous electrical displays in the world. Erected on the roof of a seven-story building overlooking Herald Square, it featured a Roman chariot race and the sign was composed of 20,000 bulbs of different colors, 70,000 connections and 2,750 switches.

“The simulated movement of horses, drivers and whips was accomplished by 2,500 flashes per minute and the sign attracted crowds every night for years. The erection of an intervening building ended its period of use by a series of advertisers.”

The tiny holdout building in the middle of Macy’s

March 3, 2011

For decades it’s been hidden behind billboards or wrapped in a giant faux shopping bag. Many shoppers never even notice it.

But old photos reveal a five-story building (right, in 1906), sticking out like a sore thumb in front of the world’s most iconic department store.

Although Macy’s leases ad space on it, the five-story building has never been owned by the store and is one of the most famous “holdouts” in New York real estate history.

It all started around 1900, when Macy’s, then located on West 14th Street, began picking up land in Herald Square for its huge new shopping mecca.

Macy’s had a verbal agreement to buy a plot at the corner of 34th and Broadway. But an agent acting on behalf of rival department store Siegel-Cooper scored the plot instead.

Reportedly the agent wanted Macy’s to give Siegel-Cooper its 14th Street store in exchange for the land at 34th Street.

But Macy’s wouldn’t have it. The store was built around the plot.

In 1903, Siegel-Cooper put up the five-story building there today.

[Above, how Macy’s covered up the building in 1936 and in the 1960s]

Herald Square in the 1950s and today

April 21, 2010

“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.

“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you”

August 27, 2009

So goes the title of this 1909 hit, about a man stuck in the sticks one summer, wishing he were back in New York City with his girl:

Oldbroadwaysheetmusic“I’d rather be on old Broadway with you, dear

where life is gay and no one seems to care;

This shady lane and summer sky so blue, dear

Does not appear to me like Herald Square.”

That must be rain-slicked 42nd Street on the cover of the sheet music, with theaters and the old crosstown trolley in the distance.

The publisher, Joseph W. Stern, was a lyricist himself who launched his own music publishing company, first on 14th Street, capitalizing on the popularity of ragtime  at the turn of the 20th century.

Where Macy’s got its modest start

July 1, 2009

$11.06. That amount was reportedly what Rowland Hussey Macy earned on the first day his new dry-goods store opened for business in a small building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street in 1858.

MacysBut after that slow start, the R.H. Macy store began grossing tens of thousands of dollars a year. It became a full-fledged department store in 1877 and eventually occupied many storefronts along West 14th Street (like the one in the photo at left).

Fourteenth Street was a more upscale shopping district at the end of the 19th century. But even then, department store moguls could see that the future of retail was farther uptown. 

So in 1902, Macy’s packed it up and relocated to a colossal new store at Herald Square on 34th Street—its current quarters today.

This weekend, Macy’s is sponsoring its 33rd annual Fireworks Spectacular, this time over the Hudson River. Macy’s pledged the first show as a tribute to America’s Bicentennial, and it quickly morphed into an Independence Day tradition.

Saving the murals from the Hotel McAlpin

February 25, 2009

Quite a beauty on Broadway and 34th Street: When it opened in 1912, the Hotel McAlpin was the largest hotel in the world.

hotelmcalpinpostcard Besides its 1,500 rooms and a spot in then-fashionable Herald Square, the McAlpin had a basement restaurant called the Marine Grill—with multicolor terra cotta ornaments decorating columns and vaulted ceilings. 

The Marine Grill also featured some pretty amazing murals that told the story of New York City’s maritime history. Sadly, in 1990, when the restaurant space was taken over by a Gap franchise (and the hotel became a rental building and eventually a co-op), those murals were headed for the trash bin.

But preservation groups stepped in and saved them, installing them in the Broadway-Nassau station in 2000.

Next time you’re downtown on the A train, take a few minutes to check ’em out. Here’s one of the six salvaged murals.

marinegrillmural1The original iron entrance gate of the Marine Grill, also saved. Here, more photos and information on the murals.


Strolling and showing off on Broadway

January 26, 2009

It may be one of the more grungy parts of Manhattan now. But around 1900, Broadway between 14th Street and Herald Square was one of the centers of the city—a place to stroll, shop, show off, and be seen—lined with fancy hotels and theaters. 


The ritual is chronicled in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, when the title character, new to New York, visits this part of Broadway with a young female neighbor and is enchanted by what she sees:

“The walk down Broadway, then as now, is one of the remarkable features of the city. There gathered, before the matinee and afterwards, not only all the pretty women who love a showy parade, but the men who love to gaze upon and admire them. It was a very imposing procession of pretty faces and fine clothes.”