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23RD STREET AND THE GREAT STORES OF SIXTH AVENUE




Siegel Cooper, 616-632 Sixth Avenue.

 

Lewis Mumford noted, "If the vitality of an institution can be measured by its architecture, one can say that the department store was one of the most vital institutions of the epoch from 1880 to 1914." A parade of former department stores lines Sixth Avenue between 18th and 23rd Streets.



The most opulent is Siegel Cooper. Henry Siegel cam from Chicago, where he had participated in the World's Fair of 1893. Seigel obviously asked DeLemos & Cordes, who designed the store, to put on it everything he had seen at the Fair - the whole architectural vocabulary of the American Beaux-Arts style.

On September 12, 1896, the New York Times announced that the store would opent that night at 7:30, and thus "end a period of uncertainty for thousands of women who had a live interest in the scheme to equip New York City with a department store which should be the rival of any such establishment in the world.

" The Times reported that 150,000 people had attended the opening of what they called "a shopping resort." The store was prepared for 190,000 visitors a day, and employed 8,000 clerks and 1,000 drivers and packers. In addition to the usual vast array of merchandise of department stores then and now, Siegel Cooper had a telegraph office, a long-distance telephone office, a foreign-money exchange, stock-trading services, a dentist, and an advertising agency.  


Hugh O'Neill, 655-671 Sixth Avenue.

In the center of the lobby was a circular fountain where jets of water cascaded over concealed multicolored lights into a marble and brass statue of The Republic, a copy of one Daniel Chester French had designed for the Chicago Fair. "Meet me at the fountain" soon became the saying all over New York. Advertising played a major role in attracting customers, who were drawn from as far away as Connecticut and New jersey by the promise of such things as colored ostrich plumes at 19 cents.

Hugh O'Neill, "the fighting Irishman," made his store famous by its aggressive salesmanship. This fine cast-iron building was designed by Mortimer C. Merritt. O'Neill's name is lettered across the pediment. Still on the west side, between 19th and 20th Streets, Simpson, Crawford & Simpson catered to the carriage trade. Designed by William Hume in 1900, it has an especially elegant and intact portico.


 

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