Jonathan Cohen

Jonathan Cohen

Posted on 06/25/2015

Photo taken on April 28, 2014

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Within Reach – Broadway at 20th Street, New York, New York

Within Reach – Broadway at 20th Street, New York, New York
This whimsical cast-iron Bohemian Renaissance building (James H. Giles, architect) now houses a Brooks Brothers clothing store. It was Lord & Taylor's main store from 1873 to 1914. The New York Times (May 7, 1995) gave some of its history:

Samuel Lord and George W. Taylor started their dry-goods store in 1826 in lower Manhattan, at 47 Catherine Street, and by the 1860's had built a large store at Grand Street and Broadway. In the post-Civil War prosperity of New York, however, even this store was too small, and a search began for newer quarters. The area of Union Square and Broadway to the north became the new locale for elite shops after Tiffany announced plans to move to Union Square West, from Broadway near Spring Street, in 1869.

In that year, Lord & Taylor leased land from two owners a few blocks north of the Tiffany site. From Henry Badeau, a grocer, it took over the long corner site running down 20th Street, and from the Goelet family, which owned much land in the area, it took several inside lots on Broadway.

The architect James H. Giles developed a five-story mansard-roofed scheme in cast iron that was widely praised. The building rises like an expanding crystal structure, an intricate pattern of crisply decorated blocks and spiky plant forms that seems to prefigure the William Morris patterns of the 1880's. The entire corner tower is angled, with a tall rectangular mansard pavilion on top, and the roof line still has much of its original, lacy cresting.

Old photographs show the southern part of the $500,000 building facing Broadway, with a double-height entrance. The photographs show no signs – apparently Lord & Taylor considered the building's architecture a sufficient advertisement.

Other cast-iron buildings were built to imitate stonework – some even had sand mixed in their paint to duplicate a grainy surface. But the Lord & Taylor architect handled his material with an honesty that was much appreciated by the critics of the day.

In November 1870 The New York Times wrote: "The building under consideration is honest -- proclaims itself to be iron at a glance. Its wealth of filigree acknowledges with all honesty what it is made of, and could not have been done in stone for millions. The decoration is profuse, though airy and graceful, and merits more than anything else the appellation of iron lace-work."

By comparison, in the same month the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide condemned the new Tiffany building, at the southwest corner of 15th Street and Union Square West, for its "utter poverty of design" in "slavishly imitating stone models out of painted cast-iron plates."

The same writer also praised the candor of the Lord & Taylor facade, but lamented the beige paint job that imitated stone: "Why not . . . have ventured upon the novel display of varied external colors, keeping all the large surfaces very subdued, and picking out the minuter surfaces and ornaments here and there, with brighter and pleasingly blending colors?"

The new Lord & Taylor opened on Monday, Nov. 28, 1870; 10,000 customers used its elevator in the first three days. The ground floor offered men's clothes and ladies' accessories; the second had cloth, carpeting and ready-made women's suits, a recent innovation. Higher floors were used for workrooms and storage. Green velvet seats around the counters invited customers to pause.

Lord & Taylor kept growing, building another five structures around its original store, the last being 119 Fifth Avenue, completed in 1906. But in 1914 the company followed the path of trade uptown, building its present store at 38th Street and Fifth Avenue and leaving the older building to the landowners.

Peter Zabulis, ╰☆☆June☆☆╮ have particularly liked this photo

I love this one, thank you for the info too ;-)

Your beautiful capture was admired in Historical & Architectural Gems.
2 years ago.