Page 1 of 6 12345 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 86

Thread: Hugh O'Neill Building - 655 Sixth Ave - by Henry Hardenbergh - Renov. by Cetra/Ruddy

  1. #1

    Default Hugh O'Neill Building - 655 Sixth Ave - by Henry Hardenbergh - Renov. by Cetra/Ruddy

    May 2, 2004


    Its Stately Domes, Long Vanished, Are to Reappear


    The Hugh O'Neill department store in 1890 with its pair of huge and fanciful beehive domes towering over the Sixth Avenue el.

    The domeless building today.

    HUGH O'NEILL'S giant store, built in 1887 on the east side of Sixth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets, was the first full-blockfront building on a strip of popular department stores below 23rd Street. Its fanciful domes are long gone, but now a developer is converting the building to condominiums and plans to put them back — and he has received permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to enlarge the cast-iron structure.

    Born in Belfast in 1844, O'Neill arrived in New York as a child and began work at age 16. Just after the Civil War, he established a dry-goods store on Broadway just north of Union Square, a section that began attracting New York's elite stores as they began migrating up from the principal shopping district, Broadway below 14th.

    The Broadway section — with Tiffany and, later, Brooks Brothers, Gorham silver and other companies — evolved into a very exclusive area, with lower priced stores locating west on 14th Street toward Sixth Avenue. So in 1870, O'Neill decided to pursue the middle of the market and moved his operation to Sixth Avenue and 20th Street. It was a fortuitous move, as the new elevated train system began operating on Sixth in the same decade.

    A telling advertisement for O'Neill's store appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1871: "50 doz. French chip hats, just received, $3. Sold on Broadway at $6. Just received 500 cartons of French flowers, finest imported. 50 percent below Broadway prices."

    O'Neill had taken over several modest buildings, and in 1880, The Real Estate Record and Guide noted that instead of "the ordinary red, he has given his store a coating of yellow with black lines and brown trimmings, which is certainly very attractive and striking."

    The same article noted that "an apartment house of yellow would, we think, be a pleasing novelty and will prove attractive." Six months later, the architect Henry Hardenbergh filed plans for the Dakota apartment house at 72nd Street and Central Park West, and its buff-yellow brick facade was an unusual departure.

    In 1887, O'Neill built his blocklong store, on a stretch of Sixth that soon became a thoroughfare of giant emporia. His four-story iron front, deeply modeled, ran from 20th to 21st Streets, and The New York Times noted that "the dingy yellow, which for years seemed to be the ruling color for large places on Sixth Avenue, has disappeared, and in its place is dazzling white surface." The Times called the new building "tasteful and handsome."

    There were — and still are — few full-blockfront cast iron buildings in New York, and the O'Neill store had something unique: a pair of huge beehive domes at each end, 100 feet high, set on top of one-story circular rooms.

    Early photographs show the domes with some sort of ball or finial on top, and the roof looks like metal of some sort, perhaps gold-painted galvanized iron. Even with the elevated tracks obscuring much of Sixth Avenue, it was hard to miss the huge new building, and impossible to avoid the great domes. The building's architect, Mortimer Merritt, also put raised letters with the founder's name in a triangular pediment in the center of the building.

    THE first floor had silk, laces, ribbon, perfume, feathers and other items; the second floor, ladies' and children's clothes; the third, rugs and upholstery; the fourth, workshops and stock rooms.

    The millinery department, on the second floor at the 21st street corner, was a showpiece, with gilded columns. The ceiling and walls were finished in Japanese paper, and there was a cornice of ebony latticework with colored glass. In the corner, a banquette ran around the circular window — the nook was partly secluded by hangings of silk tapestry.

    The Times reported that a popular item was the "Princess Louise," "an imported wrap of Sicilian silk embroidered with cut jet beads and a fish-net sleeve." Another item was "a London walking jacket" with turned seams — "the shade in greatest demand, because it is regarded as most fashionable, is the coachman's cream color," the account said.

    Such goods were attractive, in some cases too attractive. In 1888, Julia Hershey of Philadelphia was detained by a store clerk for shoplifting an umbrella. The clerk said he had caught up with her outside, but she said that he was near-sighted and that she was just inside the door, inspecting the umbrella in better light. It is not clear how the case turned out.

    By the early 1890's, O'Neill employed 2,500 people, and in 1895 he called back Merritt to add a fifth floor, and rebuild (or perhaps reinstall) the domed turrets, with the circular rooms below them. From the street the addition appears indistinguishable from the original building.

    O'Neill died in 1902, leaving $8 million, just as retailing on Sixth Avenue began a rapid decline, as some of the stores, including Macy's and B. Altman, relocated to 34th Street and even farther north. In 1906, the O'Neill store merged with Adams Dry Goods, a one-time competitor on the block to the north.

    But the merged company closed in 1907, as garment-manufacturing firms invaded the side streets and drove out retail patronage. By the 1920's all the giant stores had been converted to lofts and manufacturing. A 1940's photograph shows the old O'Neill store occupied by the Central Time Clock company, a machinery exchange and similar businesses. By that time, the domes had been demolished.

    In recent years, that stretch of Sixth Avenue, now the Avenue of Americas, has been revived, as retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Barnes and Noble have moved in. The O'Neill store was given a coat of very light gray paint a few years ago, and now the developer Miki Naftali is about to begin a $5 million condominium conversion, with a two-story roof addition, all designed by the architects Cetra/Ruddy.

    The building is within the Ladies' Mile Historic District, and the Historic Districts Council supported the plan, saying that the renewed Hugh O'Neill building would become "a showcase for the continuing revitalization of the Ladies' Mile Historic District." That is principally because Cetra/Ruddy's designs include the restoration of the domes and the circular rooms at either end — the rooms will be connected to new penthouse apartments.

    Three decades ago, the big stores along Sixth Avenue from 14th to 23rd were ghostly dinosaurs from another age, occupied by light industry and warehouse operations; the section was largely empty by day, and silent at night. The prospect of new domes on the O'Neill store demonstrates the astonishing changes that have swept over New York City's older neighborhoods in less than half a lifetime.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Hugh O'Neil Dry Goods Building

    Does anybody know how the progress is going on this building? I heard about a year ago that it was going to be made into a residential building and I read an article about it in the Post today. I was happy to see that replicas of the giant gold domes are going to be placed on the north and south corners per an agreement with the LPC. Now if they could only replicate the ones that have been missing from the Ansonia for decades.

  3. #3


    I live nearby this place, and walk by it a couple of times per week. Renovation has been ongoing for a while, and scaffolding was added to the outside a few weeks ago. Sales have been open for a while.

    As of last week, the process seemed to be gaining a bit of steam, but they still have a ways to go I think. Domes and the penthouses still need to be built. Last time I checked though, it was difficult for me to determine what exactly was going on on the roof. I think the building will look very nice and be a good addition to the Ladies' Mile district. However, The Avalon is right across the street, and it is an eyesore. Perhaps it will be closed down, but that address seems to be teflon when it comes to clubs. Fortunately, 6th avenue is a busy road, and the traffic should drown out much of the goings-on from that place.

    If you want I can take some pictures.

    edit - test
    Last edited by ebrigham; August 26th, 2005 at 07:14 PM.

  4. #4
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Ladies’ Mile landmark being converted into condos

    by Jefferson Siegel
    February 16, 2005
    The Villager

    On the Ladies’ Mile portion of Sixth Ave., a landmarked building is undergoing a luxury conversion, giving new condo owners the opportunity to pump on their stairmasters while gazing out of oversized windows that once were eye-level with the elevated subway.

    Sixth Ave. from 18th St. to the east side of 24th St. is part of the landmarked Ladies’ Mile Historic District. What makes the conversion of the O’Neill Building, which in the 1800s housed a department store on a scale with today’s big-box Circuit Cities and Home Depots, special is its classic cast-iron exterior and the building’s history.

    According to city records, the developer, Elad Properties, bought the building in December 2003 for $37 million. They have filed an application with the City Planning Commission outlining their intent to preserve the facade while adding a two-story penthouse on a roof setback. In order to add the additional floors, the owner purchased air rights from Congregation Shearith Israel, which owns a cemetery on an adjoining lot.

    The application details plans to convert the original top four floors of the five-story structure into residences. The new two-story penthouse would be set back and constructed with a sloping roof, so that, as proposed in the application, “the visibility of the enlargement from the street [will] be minimalized.” Street-level businesses are expected to remain.

    To preserve the historic character of the building, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will issue a restrictive declaration, which binds the current and any future owners to the Landmark Commission’s maintenance agreement. This building’s exterior must be preserved in its current state in perpetuity.

    Cetra Ruddy Inc., the Soho architectural firm, is working on the restoration. A key feature and prime selling point will be the rebuilding of two gold domes on the north and south corners of the roof.

    The original domes were removed early in the 20th century. John Wharton, the project manager, said of the original domes: “They were originally taken down when the building was expanded; an extra floor was added. The new domes are going to be a library or gallery space for the owners” of the new penthouse floors, he said. No original architectural plans for the domes could be located, so designs were based on old photographs from New York City archives that were originally taken to document the adjacent Sixth Ave. elevated railroad.

    Before its recent purchase, the upper floors of the O’Neill building had been home to several small dot-com businesses. When the building opens for residency in spring 2006, it will include 49 condominium residences, varying in size from 1,600 to 3,000 sq. ft.

    The Ladies’ Mile began its journey in the mid-19th century when the Stewart department store opened on Broadway and Ninth St. With the Stewart store and, a block south, the John Wanamaker store becoming anchor merchants, other businesses flocked to the area, lining Broadway up to 23rd St. As demand for larger spaces increased, Stern Brothers opened a department store on 23rd St. west of the Flatiron Building. (The six-story cast-iron building now houses Manhattan’s first Home Depot.) Sixth Ave. soon filled with intricately-designed Beaux-Arts shopping emporiums, including the Siegel-Cooper Dry Goods store (now home to Bed, Bath & Beyond), the original B. Altman’s on the northwest corner of 18th St, and the Hugh O’Neill Dry Goods store between 20th and 21st Sts.

    Access to the area was facilitated by the Sixth Ave. elevated railroad, which had a stop on 18th St. Merchants incorporated large windows into their ground floors to catch the eyes of passing riders. Seeing these display windows became easier in 1903, when sight-obscuring steam carriages were replaced by electric trains. But in 1938, the transportation link underwent a dramatic alteration when the city bought the El and began demolishing the steel superstructure. Two years later the new underground I.N.D. opened, without an 18th St. stop.

    Jack Taylor, a longtime area preservationist and president of the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District, was the driving force in securing the area’s landmark status in 1989. Commenting on the current O’Neill conversion, he said, “By and large we approved it; the Landmarks Commission did too. That’s par for the course now. Many buildings, originally retail and sometimes manufacturing, are being converted to residential.”

  5. #5


    Thanks for the article lofter, and yes, ebrigham, I'd love to see some pics. I have no problem with turning the upper floors of these grand old retail buildings residential, as long as the buildings aren't compromised. Some of these Ladie's Mile stores are landmarked so the exteriors are safe, but I'd hate to see the interiors getting ripped apart.

    In the middle of the 20th century these buildings went neglected and were pretty shabby untill the resotoration began. The Stern bulding is looking great except for the Home Depot orange that can be seen all over the lower level. Sixth avenue from 14th St through the low 20's has once again become quite a shopping district and not a bad place to spend a saturday afternoon.

  6. #6

  7. #7


    This is one of many magnificent buildings on 6th Avenue. However, there are still about five or six dilapidated blocks that contain lowrise buildings with cheap stores, bodegas, etc. They will be razed eventually, but the sooner the better. This is particularly true since new conversions, like the O'Neil building, are extremely expensive. I think that one bedrooms start at $1.3M.

  8. #8


    I will try to post a pic once a week or so. There are several buildings in the area that have good potential to be renovated to new residential lofts. The nearby Apex Technical school is one - though I don't know the current ownership/lease status. I am currently living in The Greenwich, which was built ~1908 as the Siegel's dept store. It is on the east side of 6th avenue, taking up the entire block from 13th to 14th.

    I would be surprised if there is any interior inside the Oneill building that is worth salavaging. During the decaying years, these buildings changed hands numerous times and were often neglected. It is quite likely the place was gutted for some reason or another years ago. However, if it is anything like The Greenwich, it has fantastic bones and will make a great loft space - high ceilings, large windows, floors made to commercial spec. also, the penthouses will be stepped back so their visual impact from street level is moderate. They did the same thing with my building.

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by londonlawyer
    This is one of many magnificent buildings on 6th Avenue. However, there are still about five or six dilapidated blocks that contain lowrise buildings with cheap stores, bodegas, etc. They will be razed eventually, but the sooner the better. This is particularly true since new conversions, like the O'Neil building, are extremely expensive. I think that one bedrooms start at $1.3M.
    I agree, the place still has a ways to go, but getting better. There a couple of sex shops along 6th, and these might be getting shut down if the appeals court affirms the recent April decision.

  10. #10

    Default NY Post Article - Might need to register



    August 20, 2005 -- A new luxury building in Manhattan is no big deal; it seems like they're throwing another one up every time you look. The O'Neill building, though, has a touch of old mystery.

    When retail magnate Hugh O'Neill built the city's first department store at 20th Street and Sixth Avenue in 1887, he topped off the four-story building with gold domes at the northern and southern ends of the roof. Decades later, when a fifth floor was added, the domes were removed.

    They were never replaced, and no one knows what became of them.

    Now, however, the 32-foot-high golden domes are back - courtesy of a deal with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. In exchange for permission to build extra penthouse units, developer Elad Properties agreed to reinstall the domes atop the building's roof.

    Stretching almost the full length of the building between 20th and 21st streets, the two 5,000-square-foot penthouses come with luxury perks like hand-finished stone countertops and marble mosaic tile floors.

    Fifteen-foot ceilings and 2,500 square feet of outdoor terrace space add to the apartments' airy appeal.

    The units' real selling points, though, are the domes. Unable to find the original plans for the structures, builders recreated them with the help of old photos, making for a rather unique pair of grace notes.

    "The dome becomes a little monument sitting out there on Sixth Avenue," Project Architect John Cetra of Cetra/Ruddy Inc. says. "That element is always part of the cityscape that you see."

    As Cetra says, "There are hardly any spaces like this in New York."

    It's certainly not, at any rate, the sort of pad a person is likely to run across often. Real-estate one-upmanship is a popular Manhattan pastime, yet anyone with their own personal golden dome can pretty much be sure of coming out on top.

    Of course, making such a dramatic statement is never cheap. In this case it'll cost about $7.5 million - the asking price for the units.

    The building's first four floors will be home to 49 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with one-bedrooms starting at $1.2 million.

    Sharing the top floor with the two penthouses will be three townhouse units. At roughly 2,500 square feet apiece, with prices ranging from $2.5 million to $3.5 million each, these are certainly nothing to sneeze at.

    And hey, if you make friends with your next-door neighbors, maybe they'll invite you on a tour sometime.

  11. #11


    Here are a few pics:

    This is where the domes will go. As you can see, they haven't really started yet.

    It will be interesting to see how/if this pediment will block the views of the penthouses.

    Handsome building, even with all the scaffolding.

    Another shot.

    This is directly across the street. The Avalon. Of course, lots of people call it, "That place where the Limelight used to be..."

  12. #12


    Here is some more of the neighborhood:

    A couple shots of the Apex Technical school between 19th and 20th. Pretty gritty, but good bones as they say.

    Here is the container store between 18th and 19th. Fantastic place

    Here is a shot down 6th. At least give me an A for effort.

    Another stalwart along Ladies' Mile (Between 18th & 19th St). This is the Siegel-Cooper store. More ornate than most, but very large. Not my favorite. Now houses a Bed Bath and Beyond.

    Old Navy on 18th. I like this one.

    On 17th St, a new rental condo is supposed to be going up. Not sure which corner - but this parking lot on the SW corner is a contender.

    But then again so is this building. On its last legs. Yes that is a porn shop.
    Last edited by ebrigham; August 26th, 2005 at 07:56 PM.

  13. #13


    Regarding the penthouses, they will probably do the standard set back where it really isnt visible until you are several blocks away. A good example is The Greenwich, below.

    Now you see them.

    Now you dont.

    And how it was before:
    Last edited by ebrigham; August 26th, 2005 at 08:06 PM.

  14. #14


    Thanks for the photo tour of the Ladies' Mile. Great shots. I love that building on the SE corner of 14th and Sixth. The O'Neil building and the Stern Bros. building which is on w. 23rd between Fifth and Sixth, south side of the block, and now houses a Home Depot are two of my favorites.

    There are also many interesting department store buildings along B'way between Madison Square and Union Square, also part of the Ladies Mile Historic District.

  15. #15


    No problem. I will probably go back and get a few more pics of the area, my battery died so I had to cut this tour short. I will also keep an eye on The Oneill and periodically update...

Page 1 of 6 12345 ... LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. 30 Rockefeller Center - GE Building / former RCA Building - by Raymond Hood
    By ddny in forum New York Skyscrapers and Architecture
    Replies: 71
    Last Post: July 23rd, 2015, 10:04 PM
  2. New Goldman Sachs Headquarters - 200 West Street - by Henry Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed
    By GLNY in forum New York Skyscrapers and Architecture
    Replies: 2244
    Last Post: June 3rd, 2013, 11:25 PM
  3. The Plaza Hotel - 768 Fifth Avenue at Central Park South - by Henry J Hardenbergh
    By Edward in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 149
    Last Post: September 11th, 2010, 03:33 AM
  4. Replies: 4
    Last Post: May 15th, 2009, 06:32 PM
  5. Marriott Residence Inn - Bryant Park Tower - 1033 Sixth Ave - by Nobutaka Ashihara
    By kliq6 in forum New York Skyscrapers and Architecture
    Replies: 119
    Last Post: January 7th, 2007, 07:59 AM

Tags for this Thread


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software