November 18, 2006
A Landmark of Ladies’ Mile Regains Its Domed Crowns
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
Hugh O’Neill’s dry-goods store on the Ladies’ Mile, once the city’s premier shopping district, lost its domes in the early 1900s. Now the building, on Avenue of the Americas, is being made into condos, and getting new domes.
When Hugh O’Neill’s sumptuous dry-goods palace on Sixth Avenue lost its two golden domes in the early 1900s, New Yorkers knew that the reign of Ladies’ Mile — once the premier shopping district — was not simply over but rudely forgotten.
Now that Ladies’ Mile has regained some of its long-lost cachet, the domes are coming back.
At least, a 21st-century version made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic and not quite as bulbous or tall or fancy. But there they will be, if all goes according to plan, crowning the turrets at the 20th Street and 21st Street corners of the O’Neill Building, on what is now called Avenue of the Americas.
The 17-foot-high north dome, assembled from a dozen sections, already sits on the rooftop, ready to be hoisted today atop the framework of the turret’s new sixth story. Robert Formichelli, the project manager for VJB Construction Corporation, estimated the dome’s weight at two tons. It will be ornamented by a six-foot finial that looks like a piece from some colossal chess set.
The south dome is to be installed next month. Between the turrets is the pediment where the founder’s name — Hugh O’Neill — is still inscribed, 104 years after his death.
O’Neill’s sold hats, trimmings, ribbons, laces and capes so heavily ornamented that they “bewilder the eye and burden the shoulders,” The New York Times said in 1887, when the cast-iron building opened. The structure was expanded from four to five stories in 1895. The store closed two decades later.
The building was converted to offices. The domes were taken off between 1917 and 1922, said John Cetra of Cetra/Ruddy Inc., the architects who are transforming the building into condominium apartments for Elad Properties, which is also converting the Plaza Hotel. Two floors have been added to the O’Neill Building, with penthouse apartments that will include the domed space.
Mr. Cetra said no original drawings of the domes could be found, so he had to rely on old photographs in recreating them. “The idea is to get as close as you can,” he said.
That was close enough for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved the rooftop addition in 2004. “The presence of the domes outweighs the minor changes,” said Sarah J. Carroll, the director of preservation.
With the O’Neill domes about to return to the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, Robert B. Tierney, the commission chairman, indulged for a moment in a flight of fancy. “Next,” he said, “comes the Sixth Avenue el.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Nice, but I wish it weren't so obviously plastic.
You obviously have a better eye for that stuff than me because I can't tell that they're plastic.
When I first saw it from 7th Ave, you could only see the very top, Although obviously not gold leaf, it did not look like it was fabricated using modern materials until seen as in the photo. That impression may change somewhat when the turret is complete.
Here's a photo of the building taken in the 1880's.
They sure don't make 'em like they used to, huh? This building is simply stunning.
It's very pleasing to see this restoration/reuse taking place. As someone mentioned in another thread, even if we still destroy too many little treasures, at least we've learned to preserve the big ones.
Now that you mention it they do look quite plastic, like giant panty hose container tops
On a late winter afternoon ...