Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ladies' Mile

The Apex Technical School is in the former upscale Simpson-Crawford Department Store, built in 1900.
Bed,Bath, and Beyond is in the 1896 Siegel-Cooper "Big Store".
A sign for the new Limelight Marketplace on 6th and 20th.
The front entrance of the Limelight Marketplace.
On the 1900 Adams Dry Goods Store, from 21st-22nd on 6th, one can still see ADG at top.
The 1887 Hugh O'Neill Building on 20th and 6th is now a Men's Wearhouse.

This building on 20th and Broadway was built in 1872 for Lord & Taylor, the store's third location.
The 1887 Warren Building on 20th and Broadway.
The 1884 Gorham Building on 19th and 6th, now a Fishs Eddy.
The 1869 Arnold-Constable Department Store on 19th from 5th to Broadway.
An extension of Arnold-Constable was built on 18th and Broadway on the former home of Edwin Booth.
A sign for the new Limelight Marketplace.

This windows depicting Jesus were formerly behind the altar.
The rose window of the former Church of the Holy Communion remains intact.
Another preserved staind-glass window.
St. John the Baptist.

King David.

St. Cecelia.
6th Avenue from 22nd-23rd, Erich Brothers Bargain Store, built 1889, now a Staples and Burlington Coat Factory.
This deli is in the early-20th-century Riker's Drug Store, originally built a jewelers.
The whimsical sign on the side of "The Corner" building, since 1886.
"Koster & Bial" is still carved at the peak of the building.
"The Corner", Koster & Bial's from 1886-1901, Billy's Topless from 1970-2001.
The front door of St. Sava's.
St. Sava's Cathedral, former Trinity Chapel.
Trinity Chapel, built 1851, became St. Sava's Cathedral in 1943.
When I was still working at my last real job down near Chelsea, I always took for granted that this neighborhood is a more picturesque area than further north, but only recently have I researched some of the stories of old buildings I used to walk past everyday. Now, when I'm down there, and I don't happen to be standing outside the old office waiting for somebody to come out so I can beg for my job back, I like to take a walk through what was the city's main shopping district around the turn of the twentieth century, long before 5th Avenue or Times Square grew to be the horrendous tourist traps they are today.

So I took a walk downtown to the old work neighborhood after signing up for another temp agency and tried to study some of these buildings more closely. Now mostly broken up into smaller businesses, these were some of the original large retail stores. What is now a Burlington Coat Factory on 23rd and 6th, where I always go if I need to buy a suit, and the Staples right next store, was originally Erich Brothers, a bargain store. Next to it, on the corner, is a small ornate building, originally a jewelers, then a branch of Riker's Drug Store that resisted a buyout from Erich's who wanted the entire block. It's now a fancy deli that I've never been in. Two blocks down on 21st Street is the Hugh O'Neill building, which was considered more working class than it's retail neighbors, and was named for "the fighting Irishman of 6th Avenue", who opened his store here in 1887. The building was originally constructed with gold domes on top that were later removed, but just recently restored again. His name is still shown at the peak on top. It now houses a Men's Wearhouse which I make a point to avoid because of the pushy salesmen. That and I have no money. Ha!

Apex Technical School, founded in the '60s, is in the 1900 Simpson-Crawford Department Store, from 19th to 20th Streets on the west side of 6th Avenue, which replaced a demolished 1879 version. No price tags were here -- their philosophy, if you had to ask you couldn't afford it. The architecture is rather plane and subdued, unusual in a time when opulence was popular, specifically because the owner didn't want to attract the business of people who rode the 6th Avenue elevated train. The business went bankrupt in 1915.

From 18th to 19th Street on the east side of 6th Avenue is the former Siegal-Cooper's "The Big Store -- A City In Itself" which was from 1896 to 1914 considered the center of New York City shopping. The store was the first ever to offer free samples. "Meet me at the fountain" became a city catch phrase, referring to the store's old centerpiece, which featured Daniel Chester French's statue of The Republic, now in Forest Lawn Cemetery in California. In the 1980s, a youth center called "The Door" was centered here. Now a Bed, Bath & Beyond, Filene's Basement, and TJ Max, I was occasionally sent to pick something up here when I worked at my old job. The building looks fancy enough to be a palace in Europe, and the glass walls of the new Modell's across the street give a great view of it. I was caught staring out there one day a while back and one of the sales associates said to me, "It really is a great view, isn't it? I like to just stand here sometimes during my breaks." Across the street was the B. Altman building, called "The Palace of Trade" from 1876 - 1906, until it moved up to 34th Street and 5th Avenue, leading the way to Midtown and 5th Avenue becoming the center of posh and sophistication.

Across the street from the Hugh O'Neill building is the former 1846 Church of the Holy Communion, the first asymmetrical church in the United States, and attended by most of the wealthy Protestant families of New York, later the notorious dance club The Limelight, later still briefly a club called Avalon (which wasn't all that different from the Limelight as far as illegal activity went), and now very recently reopened again as a mini-mall called The Limelight Marketplace. I recently had the pleasure of being able to walk around in here after seeing it from the outside for so long, and am amazed to see pretty much all of the stained glass windows still intact. Walking up one of the new stairways to the second level of shops, I came across a window depicting St. Cecilia with an inscription at the bottom that read, "The Gift of the Members and Friends of the St. Cecilia Choir Club." In the back is a huge window depicting Jesus surrounded by angels. The windows are very well done (they remind me of the windows of St. Ann's in Nyack), and I'm surprised, after reading about the debauchery of the Club Kids, and watching the movie Party Monster about Michael Alig and James St. James among others, that these great works of art are still here. You can read all about this church/club on my website,

Further north is a small 1886 building which has seen a lot of history. On the peak on top, and on the side of the building, one can see it was christened "The Corner", because it is on the corner of 24th and 6th, and owned by "Koster &Bial". This duo owned a performance hall and theatre on 23rd and 6th, long demolished, that was famous for its vaudeville shows and orchestra. "The Corner", a block up, was a beer hall annex that survived even when Koster & Bial moved uptown to the site of Macy's, and later went out of business. Almost a hundred years later, from 1970 - 2001, this was Billy's Topless, a seedy, divey, nudey bar that was a holdout from the makeover that the so-called ungovernable city received mostly in Times Square in the '90s, but was eventually shut down by Giuliani in 2001. In the 1998 movie Rounders, about professional poker players, Ed Norton's character gets beaten up in the bathroom here by a former "business partner". For a while it was Empire State Bagels, and last fall it reinvented itself once again as a deli/pizza place called The Corner Cafe.

Supposedly, the buildings along this strip were intentionally built a little stretched because they were meant to be viewed by the 6th Avenue elevated train, and since only the working class road the city trains, these stores were intended for them. The rich shopped along Broadway from Madison Square to Union Square. So I make my way along 23rd Street to the Flatiron Building, where the term "23 Skiddo" supposedly originated when the building was finished in 1902, and police had to chase off loiterers who stood on the corner waiting the to see a bit of ankle from the women whose skirts were blown up by the unusual winds created by the triangular shaped building. On the southwest corner of 20th and Broadway can be seen Lord & Taylor's original store, built in 1873, until moving uptown in 1914. It currently houses the Stores Energie and Miss Sixty, before that Intermix and a china store called Villeroy and Boch. It the early '90s, this building also housed a topless bar. Next door, originally an extension of Lord & Taylor, with the same cast-iron facade, is Equinox Fitness, the company gym that I never belonged to because I was only a full-time temp for most of my time there.

On the west side of Broadway from 18th to 19th Street is the Arnold Constable Department Store building. From 1869 to 1914 it offered "everything from cradle to grave" and was a favorite store of Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Morgans. Across the Street, ABC Carpets, was once home to W & J Sloane, from 1881-1912. The store introduced oriental rugs to New York City, and carpeted the homes of the city's elite families, the Waldorf-Astoria, and the coronation of Czar Nicholas II in 1894. W. (William) Sloane was the foreman of the jury that convicted Boss Tweed in 1873. On my way down here, heading toward 6th Avenue, I past St. Sava's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, a beautiful 19th century church, originally built as an uptown satellite chapel of Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street, that I have yet to see the inside of. Boss Tweed's daughter was married here in 1870, and it is said that the $700, 000 worth of wedding presents she received, a tremendous amount of money by today's standards let alone 140 years ago, led to his downfall.

On the northwest corner of 18th and Broadway, which I've passed so many times, was once the home of one of New York City's most renowned Shakespearian actors in the 19th century, Edwin Boothe. His brother, John Wilkes Boothe, who of course assassinated Abraham Lincoln, often stayed here with him. Between 22nd and 23rd Streets on 6th Avenue, where new apartments were built in 2002, was the Edwin Boothe Theatre from 1869 to 1883, which he not only acted in, but was also in charge of. Sarah Bernhart made her New York debut here in 1890. It was later occupied by the James W. McCreery store from 1895 - 1907, McCreery being the so called "Dean of the Retail Trade". The building was demolished in 1975, but a portrait of Shakespeare from the old building can be seen on the new building's west side.

I can go on and on about the old buildings that line these streets, but I'm heading into new territory further downtown and that will have to be for another blog. Time to head to Union Square and take the train home.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know where I can find out for sure who executed the large east-end stained glass window's three panels at the former Church of the Holy Communion?
    At the time of its handover to a builder for conversion to the disco (1983), I remember someone's telling me that the window had been designed by John La Farge and was the largest extant example of his work. I've never been able to find verification of that assertion. Anybody know more than that? Thanks.