Thursday, May 23, 2013

Arnold Constable & Company: The Best Mansard in NYC

Just south of the Flatiron building, on East Nineteenth Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, sits the  Arnold Constable Company building. It has one of the largest and most impressive mansards in the city. I can't think of another that is this palatial. It also looks to be two high-ceiling-ed stories tall. I'm awed in ways I can't explain.
Arnold Constable & Co. building, Broadway facade, April 2013. Photo: Anne Kumer
The company was originally founded in 1825 as a small dry goods store in lower Manhattan. In 1857 the founders built a five-story white marble store on Canal and Mercer Streets, a bit north. Because of the store's success, the need to expand again came in less than ten years. In 1869, the company moved farther north, this time to a cast-iron building on Broadway and Nineteenth Street. Designed by Griffith Thomas, the Broadway facade was constructed of white marble. One of the store's founders,  Aaron Arnold felt it was ". . . the only material elegant enough for a prosperous emporium." The AC & Co. was definitely that -- it catered to the carriage trade before the term even came into being, and is credited as being the city's first department store. Arnold died a year before the store's expansion along Nineteenth Street, straight to Fifth Avenue in 1876.

It looked (and looks) something like this:

The Arnold Constable & Co. building showing the Fifth Avenue facade looking east, 1877. Image: archiseek

In 1914, the NYT reported another move uptown to an undisclosed location. That location turned out to be the corner of West 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, directly across from the main NYPL building (built in 1911), near Bryant Park, and just one block south of this. The company traded in its cast iron and mansard glory for a much less decorative structure. French Second Empire be damned.

After the move to West 40th and Fifth Avenue, 1915. Image: MCNY
Around 1925, the store became part of A.T. Stewart Company -- a name in retail history that you can't swing a dead cat without encountering a million times -- and in the late 1930s, several branches of the store were built by then president, Isaac Liberman. In 1975 was forced to close its doors, 150 years after they originally opened in 1825.

This location is now the home of the NYPL Mid-Manhattan branch, but might not be for too long, though this could delay the progress some. The Mansard-ed up Broadway building is still home to a large retailer though: ABC Carpet & Home.

Other Sources:
Ladies' Mile Historic District designation report
Hendrickson, Robert. The Grand Emporiums, p. 154-155

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