|photo by Mike Strand
Roland Macy had died in 1877 and in 1896 brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus acquired the business. Realizing that the continued northward movement would leave his store behind and as the century wound down, they schemed to jump ahead of the pack, secretly buying up the properties along Broadway from 34th to 35th Streets. A handshake with Alfred Duane Pell cemented a $250,000 agreement for the 34th Street corner property.
Henry Siegel, part owner of a major competitive dry goods concern, Siegel-Cooper, got wind of the plan. Through an agent he outbid Macy's for the corner lot by $125,000 and understandably Pell accepted--the difference was a substantial $3.8 million by today's standards. Although Siegel's intentions cannot be completely certain, it appears he wanted Macy's 14th Street property. He held the 34th Street corner hostage; the ransom being the 14th Street property.
The Strauses called Siegel's bluff. In July of 1901 it was announced that that Macy's would built a gigantic new store with over 1.5 million square feet, nine stories high, a commercial phenomenon. The structure would be built around the obstinate corner; a notable example of a real estate holdout.
|Horse-drawn carriages and one motorcar line the curb in front of the new department store. Siegel's replacement building, still vacant, sits on the corner. photo from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
In the 1940s Macy's began using the little building as an easel for its advertising, in what must have been an "if you can't beat it, use it" philosophy. As the decades progressed, less and less of the little building, designed by William H. Hume, was visible.
|Advertising had begun covering the little corner building by the 1940s -- from the collection of the New York Public Library
Today just two floors of the Hume building can be seen under the huge red Macy's shopping bag that has become so familiar to New Yorkers. The David and the Goliath of the 34th Street corner have made peace, it would seem, after a century of irritating co-existence.