|Carriages wait for ladies shopping at Flint's Furniture in 1895 -- King's Photographic View of New York (author's collection)|
By the 1880’s the retail district was slowly moving northward from 14th Street along 6th Avenue; the area which would be familiarly known as The Ladies’ Mile. In 1886 R. J. Horner, arguably Flint’s strongest competitor, had erected a stylish cast iron store on 23rd Street, following the upward movement.
Although Flint held out on 14th Street for a while, by 1893 it became obvious that a new store was necessary. The New York Times reported that “The George C. Flint Company has found its present large store entirely inadequate for the proper display of the great and varied stock which the firm carries.”
Flint commissioned the esteemed architect Henry J. Hardenbergh to design his new structure. Eight stories tall, the facade would be fashioned of limestone rather than the cast iron used in Horner’s store just down the block. Large show windows on the first and second floors allowed a flood of sunlight into the showrooms. Gracing the upper portions of the four two-story ground floor piers, were ornate carved cartouches featuring demonic-looking feline heads. Hardenbergh used Ionic pillars, Corinthian pilasters, arches and an elaborate, deeply overhanging metal cornice to create a stately and visually appealing structure.
On August 22, 1894 Flint opened his doors for business in the new store, which extended through the block to 24th Street. “The store is so large,” said The Times, “that each piece on display stands by itself, and can be inspected from every side without delay or inconvenience. On each floor there are special exhibition rooms where the suits of furniture can be placed to show how they appear when arranged in the homes of purchasers.”
Flint had borrowed the idea of arranging furniture in room settings from his rival, Horner. Here were displayed parlor sets in the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles, “Bagdad and Turkish rugs,” mahogany dining room sets in the Chippendale style or oak sets “of the German Renaissance.”
“The firm is a present showing a special line of bedroom suites, in bird’s-eye maple, birch, mahogany, and oak. Many of the suites have twin beds, which are popular now instead of the single wide bed,” said The Times.
Flint’s business was not limited to the design, manufacture and sale of furniture. He kept a crew of craftsmen who installed interior woodwork in public and residential buildings. In 1880, Flint designed and installed the magnificent entrance hall and staircase of the Park Avenue Armory.
Problems arose in 1895 when his cabinet makers were working on the Presbyterian Building, being constructed on 5th Avenue at 20th Street. When the electrical workers went on strike, work on the building abruptly halted. The portion of Flint’s factory which was manufacturing the cabinetry also ground to a stop.
Rather than lay the men off during hard times (the Depression of 1893 was still being felt), the company put them to work manufacturing furniture which it put on sale at cost.
Disaster struck on November 6, 1906 when Flint’s factory and warehouse on West 29th Street caught fire. Fireman had problems with the water tower and for at least ten minutes could not get water on the blaze. Within a few hours the entire structure had burned to the ground, destroying everything. The lost furniture alone was valued at $250,000, much of it European antiques.
Shortly afterwards, Flint and Horner joined forces to become Flint & Horner. By the end of World War I both of the 23rd Street showrooms had been left for space uptown.
Hardenbergh’s beautiful building at No. 43 West 23rd Street has been little altered. Appropriately, the building where fashionable ladies once shopped for “fancy chairs in rich upholstering, easy chairs, desks for ladies, fancy curtains, etc., without number, all worthy of a place in a palace,” as The Times reported, today houses a furniture store.
non-credited photographs were taken by the author