Friday, November 12, 2010

A.T. Stewart, John Wanamaker, the Great Fire, and the Great Flood (Part I)

Ed. Note: Part II of this post is here.

A.T. Stewart, considered by many to be the father of the modern department store, opened his immense flagship store in 1862 on the block sided by 9th and 10th Streets, Broadway and 4th Avenue.  Known as the "Iron Palace" (in contrast with Stewart's original store, the "Marble Palace", which opened in 1846 on lower Broadway), the store was the anchor of the new "Ladies Mile" retail district.  Stewart located his store to take advantage of the uptown movement of the elite to neighborhoods surrounding Union Square and Washington Square.

One of the earliest buildings to employ a cast iron facade, the new technology provided greater window area and natural light.  The building was designed by John Kellum and estimated to cost $2.75 million, and quickly became a tourist marvel.

View of the "Iron Palace" c. 1868 shortly after opening and before the extension, looking southeast with 10th Street to the left (looking east) and Broadway downtown to the right.  Note the two buildings to the right on the corner of Broadway and 9th Street (right).

Another view before the 1870 extension, looking along the east side of Broadway uptown from 9th Street.  Note Grace Church, left, in the background.
NYPL Digital Gallery

I noticed that early photos of the building showed that its southern side did not extend to its ultimate border on 9th Street.  An extension was completed in 1870, apparently after additional lots or leaseholds were acquired.
Fully complete after the 1870 extension, looking at the northeast corner of Broadway (uptown to the left) and 9th Street (east to the right).  Note the 9th Street loading dock.
NYPL Digital Gallery

After Stewart's death in 1876 (he was buried at St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery and his remains were stolen and ransomed soon afterward, but that's another story), the business continued on until 1882 when it became Hilton, Hughes & Co (formed by associates of Stewart).  Hilton, Hughes failed in August 1896, and in September of that year, the building was acquired by John Wanamaker, a retailer from Philadelphia.
View looking to the northwest from 4th Avenue (uptown to the right) and 9th Street (west to the left).  Note the pedestrian "Bridge of Progress" over 9th Street (left of photo).
Museum of the City of New York (Berenice Abbott, 1936)

Wanamaker spent the next several years assembling lots on the block just south of his building, bordered by 8th and 9th Street, 4th Avenue and Broadway, before announcing in 1902 he would build a new building on that site.  Wanamaker planned to take advantage of the new IRT subway (under construction at the time), and made arrangements for the Astor Place station to open directly into the basement of his building. 
According to the NOHO Historic District Report:
Pivotal to the commercial stability of the district was the 1903 decision of Wanamaker's Department Store to build an annex to its store at Broadway and 9th Street. At a time when many department stores were relocating uptown, Wanamaker's expansion demonstrated the retailer's commitment to the area. The store's convenient location within a block of the Astor Place station of the new IRT subway, construction, may have played a part in the decision. Wanamaker engaged the D. H.Burnham & Company of Chicago to design the fourteen-story annex at 756-770 Broadway (1903-07). Clad mostly in terra cotta, this Renaissance Revival style shopping palace contained thirty-two acres of retail space and occupied the entire block when finally completed.
NOHO Historic District,
The Wanamaker's "annex" building still stands today, although we know it as 770 Broadway, or the KMart building (and the basement is still accessible from the Astor Place station).  The building is corporate home to America Online and J.Crew, among others.  The original "Iron Palace" no longer stands, and in Part II I'll look at its demise.

A view looking south on Broadway showing the original A.T. Stewart "Iron Palace" (center) and the new Wanamaker's annex (background).

The "Bridge of Progress" connecting the two Wanamaker's buildings over 9th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway, c. 1924 (looking west).
NYPL Digital Gallery

Some other articles from the New York Times:
View looking northwest from 9th Street and 4th Avenue, the site of the 1862 A.T. Stewart building, now the Stewart House cooperative apartments.  (Author, 2010)

9th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway is also known as "Wanamaker Place".  (Author, 2010)

An Interesting Artifact

The Lafayette Street traffic pattern we know today--past Astor Place, slight jog to the right, then merging up 4th Avenue--was apparently made possible by the construction of the Wanamaker annex and the Astor Place subway station.  Maps prior to the construction connect Cooper Square (west side) directly to 4th Avenue (as it does today), but Lafayette Street effectively dead ends at 8th Street.

From Bromley, 1891.  Note the marked triangular area which comprises an extension to Lafayette Street today.  Also note the "Hilton Hughes" name in the upper left; this map was drawn after the 1882 transfer of the A.T. Stewart company, and before the Wanamaker acquisition.

From Randall & Blackwell, 1867.  Note A.T. Stewart store.
NYPL Digital Library

From Bromwell 1899.  Note the Iron Palace (555) is now labeled John Wanamaker.
NYPL Digital Library

From Bromwell 1916.  The annex is complete and the lot trimmed to the line we know today.
NYPL Digital Library


~evilsugar25 said...

bravo! fascinating. i knew about the two buildings but had never seen the "bridge of progress" before.

i love this blog. thank you!

Choresh Wald said...

Your blog is beautiful.
Waiting to read your next post.

Notcom said...

Bravo indeed !

Curious that both the original and annex buildings were initially built as L shapes and then expanded to full block.

There is available online a vintage book showing the interior of the earlier building.