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The New York Times

Monday, September 8, 1986



Loving Ladies' Mile

     "All America goes to New York for its shopping, when it can...." reads an 1893 handbook. "The brightness of Broadway, the vivacity of lower Fifth Avenue, the sparkle of 23rd Street, are made up of the splendid temptations of the shop windows, and the groups of charming people who linger about them spell bound.... What are the Paris boulevards, or even Regent Street, to this magnificent panorama of mercantile display?"

     That magnificent panorama of mercantile display was nicknamed "Ladies' Mile," and it remained magnificent until the century turned and retailing moved uptown. The buildings stayed, however, to house light industries, menswear manufacturers and novelty jobbers. At night the area became second in silence only to the financial district. Now, though, its enjoying a commercial and residential renaissance – so much so that a group called the Drive to Protect Ladies' Mile has organized to insure that success doesn't kill the buildings that survived even failure. The group petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to make Ladies' Mile a historic district, which would mean no building there could be demolished or externally altered without the commission's approval.

     Neighboring Greenwich Village and SoHo have such status and the reason is clear to anyone who walks their streets. Despite many changes, the Village is an extraordinary remnant of 19th-century residential Manhattan and SoHo has been preserved as the nation's greatest concentration of cast-iron architecture. The claims for Ladies' Mile require a little more neck-straining; one has to look up to see the remarkable windows and rich ornamentation of the great old mercantile palaces.

     The Landmarks Commission held its first hearing on the proposal in June, looking at all or parts of 28 blocks, which include more than 400 buildings. Some of the Fifth Avenue buildings lack the distinction of those on Sixth Avenue and Broadway and were built decades after the heyday of Ladies' Mile. But a sizable protection seems desirable. The petitioners' loving concern deserves the widest attention. The group that banded together for Ladies' Mile should be congratulated on being among the best friends a neighborhood can have.

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