View Full Version : Ladies' Mile

August 2nd, 2004, 10:27 AM
Ladies' Mile Historic District (http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/lpc/pdfs/historic/ladies_mile.pdf)

The Ladies’ Mile story begins well to the south of the historic district, on Broadway and Chambers St, where in 1846, A.T. Stewart opened his Italian Palazzo styled Marble Palace.




The dry goods emporium was a departure from the small specialty shops that were common at the time, with items organized into “departments.” The ground floor had cast iron columns framing large plate-glass windows. A central skylight was set above an interior court. Stewart brought many innovations to retailing, among them the fashion show. The building still stands today, and is generally known as The Sun Building, named for the newspaper that occupied the building in the early 20th century. It still stands today, having undergone a renovation, with city offices on the upper floors, and street level retail. The Sun clock works, but it always did, even during the shoddy years.

Following the city’s expansion northward, Stewart opened his Cast Iron Palace on Broadway and 9th St in 1862. This was a true department store, with 2000 employees, and goods organized into 19 categories, such as dress goods, carpets, sports, and toys. A glass dome covered a central rotunda, and music entertained customers. The store attracted the rich and famous, including first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who ran up a $27,000 bill during Abe’s presidency. It also attracted other retailers, who built similar emporiums along Broadway, 5th, and 6th Avenues up to 23rd St. This district became known as Ladies’ Mile, and gave New York City its reputation as a shopping mecca.

R.H. Macy opened his store on 6th Ave near 14th St in 1858, and gradually expanded it until he owned 11 buildings. A red-star tattoo he got as a teenager on a Nantucket whaler became the store logo. Macy was one of the first businessmen to employ women executives. In 1902, Isidor and Nathan Strauss relocated Macy’s further uptown to its present location at Herald Square.

Cathedrals of Commerce (http://www.city-journal.org/html/6_2_urbanities-cathedrals.html[Cathedrals%20of%20Commerce[/url)


The earliest stores above 14th St were on Broadway, with Lord & Taylor and Arnold Constable opening in 1869. Expansion west quickly followed, with Benjamin Altman among the first on 6th Ave in 1876. The 6th Ave elevated train opened in 1878, adding more shoppers to the established “carriage trade.” In 1851 the New York Herald published a list of the 200 wealthiest New York families. Half of them lived on 5th Ave between 14th and 23rd Sts. By the 1870s many had moved further north on 5th Ave or to Gramercy Park and Murray Hill as commerce moved in. The buildings along 6th Ave feature oversized second story windows that displayed goods to El passengers. The pinnacle was the 1896 opening of Siegel-Cooper, at the time the largest store in New York.

The area was more than a shopping center. In the late 19th century, it was the cultural center of New York. 23rd St preceded upper Broadway as an entertainment spine.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (1873): W 14th St between 6th and 7th Aves.

Edwin Booth Theater (1869-1883): SE corner of W 23rd St and 6th Ave. Owned by the brother of Lincoln’s assassin. He had a home on Broadway where the Constable Store now stands.

Delmonico’s Restaurant (3rd location): 5th Ave and E 14th St.

Masonic Hall (1875): W 23rd St and 6th Ave

Proctor’s Music Hall (1888): W 23rd St between 6th and 7th Aves.

Grand Opera House: (1868) 23rd St and 8th Ave.

Fifth Avenue Hotel: (1858-1908) 23rd, at Madison Square. At the time, the finest hotel in New York City.

Eden Musee (1884-1914): north side 23rd St between 5th and 6th. Complete with a Chamber of Horrors.

Hotel Chelsea (http://www.hotelchelsea.com/newmain.htm) (1883). New York City’s first cooperative apartment house, and tallest building for 19 years.

The retail stores began to close or move further north about the time of WWI. Warehousing and light manufacturing moved in. Some of the buildings have regrettable additions or subtractions, but most are remarkably intact. The Ehrich Emporium still has the gear mechanism, under the cast-iron cladding, that was used to open the window awnings. I guess the new occupants had no need to modernize the exteriors.

The revitalization of the area generally began when ABC Carpets bought and renovated the Arnold Constable store in the 1960s. Today it is again a thriving retail district.

August 3rd, 2004, 02:45 AM
Zoning proposal, more residential...