Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where Hats were Made -- Brunner & Tryon's 1892 No. 661 Broadway

photo by Beyond My Ken
When Moses Sachlein acquired 661 Broadway around 1890, a five-story masonry building had stood on the site for half a century. Here for decades George P. Putnam ran his publishing business until his death in 1872.

Sachlein razed the old structure in 1891 and in its place he commissioned architects Brunner & Tryon to design an 8-story store and loft building. Arnold Brunner and Thomas Tyron had only recently established the firm and had completed the headquarters of Downtown Hebrew Institute just two years earlier.

The building was completed in 1892, a handsome French Renaissance Revival structure with angles, textures and a mixture of materials similar to the highly-popular Queen Anne and Eastlake styles of the day. The architects placed the building on a solid two-story base of cast iron and rusticated granite piers. The third through sixth floors were of buff-colored brick with cast iron window frames and terra cotta detailing. The top two floors burst forth with terra cotta embellishment of palm fronds, swags, wreaths, Corinthian capitals and an elaborate pediment over the eighth floor dormer.

Terra cotta, cast iron and brick combine below a slate-covered roof -- photo by Alice Lum
The property stretched back through the entire block where the less elaborate façade had the address of No. 228 Mercer Street.

The building filled with a variety of tenants, one of the earliest being George W. Nathan. In February 1894 Mr. Nathan took Thomas Hays to court, charging him with stealing a diamond pin at his offices here, valued at $30.  The case took an embarrassing turn when on February 11 The World reported that Hays was let go “because Nathan was not sure but he might have lost the pin. He got it back again.”

At the turn of the century the majority of tenants were millinery and haberdashery manufacturers. In 1906 Alland Brothers & Co. operated here, importers and wholesalers of ladies’ and misses’ “headwear in every branch of the trade.” The Washington Post said of them, “This firm is famed all over the country for the beauty and exclusiveness of its trimmed hats. Their creations are accepted as the standard of correctness. French conceptions fresh from the Paris style-creators, and their own adaptations of foreign and American ideas are represented”

In 1910 the ground floor store was the home of M. Kalischer, Flowers and Feathers while upstairs were the Florence Hat Company, Samuel D. Lasdon, manufacturers of ladies hats and novelties, Samuel Blum and the Gingold Brothers, clothiers, among others.

It was a time when no woman or man would be seen in public without a hat. Men wore different hats for business, boating, picnics, leisure and evening wear.  And for every hat a gentleman owned a lady would have two. Through World War I the building was home to The Western Hat Company, The Practical Clothing Company and Linder & Berger, wholesale dealers in women’s and misses’ hats.

Here, in 1925, the Needlebook Specialty Company had its headquarters  In its nationwide ads it promised “$20 profit daily selling needlebooks.” The ambitious entrepreneur would buy the books for three to five cents each and sell them for a quarter, emphasizing to the customer that their value was fifty cents.

The building, as well as the adjoining 663-665 Broadway, was purchased in April 1941 by the Adam Hat Stores – a chain of stores that had formed an affiliate called Adam 665 Broadway Corporation.  The combined buildings, acquired from the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, formed a Broadway frontage of 120 feet. Rental income from the combined structures was estimated at $50,000 per year.

In 1954 Adam Hats sold the buildings to realty operator Jack Braus but remained on, immediately signing a ten-year lease for the 50,000 square feet they occupied.  Brause announced his intentions to modernize the old buildings.

No. 661 Broadway continued to be popular with garment firms and a year later Irving Raincoat Company was doing business from here.

Styles change and, for better or worse, by the 1960s hats for men were out of fashion. In 1962 A. Rosen & Sons who had manufactured men’s hats and hatters supplies from the building declared bankruptcy. The golden years of haberdashers was over.

photo by Alice Lum
Brunner & Tryon’s handsome design has sustained some modernization, especially at street level; but overall the façade is relatively untouched. It is a delightful stand-out among the many and varied architectural treasures along this stretch of Broadway.


  1. Whenever I see a towering structure like this I always wish I could live in the tiny room at the very top!

  2. That is exactly the sort of response Victorian architects hoped to elicit with these fanciful buildings. See? They succeeded!