Saturday, July 18, 2020

the 1895 H. Richter's Sons Building - 627-629 Broadway

In 1888 clothiers A. H. King & Co. operated from the combined storefronts of Nos. 627 and 629 Broadway, between Houston and Bleecker Streets.  Their well-heeled patrons could afford the silk-lined overcoats it advertised that September which cost the equivalent of $817 today.  

At the time H. Richter's Sons was located a few blocks to the south, at Nos. 502-504 Broadway.  The men's neckwear manufacturer hired Ehrich Weiss as an assistant lining cutter in 1889.  The Austrian-born immigrant would later change his professional name to Harry Houdini.

A. H. King & Co. would have to find a temporary location for its store in 1894 when H. Richter's Sons demolished Nos. 627 and 629 Broadway and hired architect Louis Korn to design a modern replacement loft and store building on the site.  Korn was prolific in the area at the time, designing dozens of loft buildings on Lower Fifth Avenue, Broadway and the streets between.

He produced at 10-story Renaissance Revival style structure faced in tan brick and limestone with terra cotta decoration that ran through the block to Mercer Street.  Completed in 1895, the openings of the third through seventh floors were enclosed within two five-story elliptical arches.  Elaborate Renaissance-inspired terra cotta decorations embellished the eighth floor, and the top two floors were unified by double-height Corinthian pilasters.  A regal stone balustrade perched above the cornice.

King's Photographic Views of New York, (copyright expired)
A. H. King & Co. moved back to its old address in the new Richter Building along with its landlord, whose factory engulfed the second, third and eighth floors.  Other space was leased to clothing manufacturer Samuel Gumpert & Co.; millinery firm Weber & Leopold; and Veit, Son & Co., "millinery ornaments and braids."

H. Richter's Sons installed a state-of-the-art security system into its facilities.  A burglar alarm was connected to the Holmes Electric Protective Co. which had keys to the space.  The firm had not been in its new home long before the system proved its worth.

The Jewish-owned firm was closed on Saturdays and around noon on March 7 a signal alerted the alarm company that someone was attempting to break into the eighth full offices.  Two investigators were sent to the building.

The New York Times reported "Richter's Sons keep their safe in the office, and the private detectives were in hopes of catching the burglar.  He heard them coming, however, and as they separated on the top landing, one to take each door of the office, he ran between them, down the stairs, and to the street."  The private detectives were close on his heels and all three reached the street nearly together.  

The crook was Firmon J. Heiman, alias Levy, called by police "a sneak-thief and burglar, whose picture is in the Rogues' Gallery."  Unfortunately for him, there were two policemen on the corner of Bleecker Street and Broadway and he was soon behind bars at Police Headquarters.

So grateful were the Richter brothers that the alarm had prevented a theft that they placed a prominent advertisement in the New-York Tribune the following week in the form of a letter to Holmes.  It said in part:

There is no doubt but what we would have suffered a severe loss on Saturday last had our building not been equipped with your Electric wires.  It pleases us that through your efforts New York City has one thief less at large.

The Millinery Trade Review, July 1904 (copyright expired)

Weber & Leopold was also up-to-date in terms of technology.  As it geared up for its summer line of hats in February 1902, it placed an advertisement in The New York Herald seeking "Experienced power operators on W. & G. machine millinery work; long season; highest pay."

Original tenants Veit, Son & Co. and A. H. King & Co. were still in the building in 1907 when they were joined by the Commercial Shirt Co. and Werner, Julius & Sommer Co., makers of men's clothing.  In 1909 R. G. S. Novelty Co., manufacturers of "boys waists" and "wash suits" occupied space as well.

H. Richter's Sons' advertisements were unexpectedly understated.  The Sun, March 7, 1909 (copyright expired)

On March 26, 1912 fire broke out in the fire story building at No. 623 Broadway.  The intense blaze quickly spread to No. 625 and then, according Insurance Engineering magazine, "In the twelfth story the fire entered through the windows in the light shaft between 625 and 627-629, so rapid was the spread in the stories below."  The publication blamed inadequate protections for the severe damage to the H. Richter's Sons building.  "The flimsy protection in the windows in the light shaft in 627-629 Broadway could not withstand the heat of the fire and the tenth story was completely gutted."

The top story of the Richter Building was gutted.  Insurance Engineering, May 1912 (copyright expired
When repairs were completed the Commercial Shirt Company moved back into its top floor space.  At 7:30 on the evening of December 9 five young women and three men were at work when fire struck again.  This time it broke out in the cellar of Veit, Son & Co.  Ironically the firm was preparing to move out after nearly a decade.  All its stock had been packed in cases ready for the move.

As the fire spread upward to the store level, the top floor workers remained unaware until smoke wafted upward.  The New-York Tribune reported "Owing to the smoke and the poor means of reaching the blaze the firemen had a hard time fighting the fire."  That smoke made escape down the staircases impossible for the Commercial Shirt Company employees, who had to negotiate the ten stories to the street down the Mercer Street fire escape.

Once again fire repairs were made.  Commercial Shirt Co. remained in the building, employing forty men and sixty women.  The waist manufacturing firm International Mfg. Co. was also a large concern, with nine men, thirty-five women, and one teenager less than 16-years old working in its factory.   H. Richter's Sons staff included twenty-four men and fifty-two women with five office workers.

On October 31, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported on a new tenant.  Kaplan Brothers had taken 20,000 square feet in the Richter Building "for the sale of artificial foliage."   Artificial flowers were an important decoration for women's hats.  Soon Katz & Auerbach, dealers in artificial flowers and feathers, took space as well.

The latter firm's name appeared in newspapers for all the wrong reasons in the summer of 1921.  One of its partners, Maurice Auerbach, had married on January 11, 1920.  Things quickly deteriorated in the marriage.  In August 1921 Doris Auerbach went to court charging "that her husband had struck her on several occasions since their marriage and threatened her with death," according to the New-York Tribune on August 6.

She additionally complained that she had "no home worthy the name."  He refused to buy common apartment furnishings like dishes or carpets.  After enduring the physical, mental and verbal abuse for months, Doris moved in with her parents in February 1921.  Concerned that a divorce was imminent, Auerbach transferred all his personal assets to the company.  Doris's affidavit quoted him as saying "You haven't a thing on me.  I have transferred everything I own to corporations and you can't use me as a meal ticket any longer.  I am sick of you and everything connected with you.  Back to Ma."

In 1959 the building was purchased by swimwear manufacturer Fay Fischel who had founded the firm with her husband in 1937.    Three decades later, while the swimwear factory was gone, the Fischels still retained possession of the building, and the floors that were once filled with garment workers and sewing machines now held modern offices spaces.

New York University took space in the building in 2008.  A subsequent renovation completed in 2009 resulted in a store on the ground floor sharing space with the school's lobby and classrooms, conference rooms and offices on the upper floors.

photographs by the author


  1. Hello Tom!Just stopping by to say thank you for this amazing blog!

    I recently traveled to Manhattan and looking for some good information and Curiosities about the buildings around (as I'm into arquitecture) I found your blog and loved it (besides of being really useful).

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    1. I'm glad to hear the blog was helpful. Thanks so much for the comment and I hope your trip was enjoyable.