Thursday, May 24, 2012

The 1916 Terra Cotta Globe-Wernicke Bldg -- Nos. 451-453 Broadway

photo by Alice Lum
In 1916 the Cincinnati-based firm of Globe-Wernicke was among the foremost furniture makers in the country.    Much of the credit for the company’s success could be directly attributed to the novel and immensely popular “elastic bookcase.”  An outgrowth of Globe-Wernicke’s office furniture, the bookcase was modular—a novel design that allowed the purchaser to add or remove sections depending on need.   The cases, many of them built of golden oak in the Mission style, appeared in offices, homes and apartments across the country.

That year the company purchased the five-story building at Nos. 451-453 Broadway which had been home to Loeb & Schoenfeld, embroidery importers, for years.   Globe-Wernicke announced it would spend approximately $75,000 to renovate the property for use as a central distribution point to be solely used by the firm.  “It will contain the most extensive line of furniture equipment ever shown in America,” promised The American Stationer.

The New York manager, Lester S. Woodward, explained that the choice of the 60,000 square foot building had to do with location.  “We desire a permanent central home, and after careful analysis we are convinced that this is the most central location for our permanent display room.  One reason why we reached this conclusion is the fact that Canal street is the only point on Manhattan Island where all four subways, present and proposed, will have stations parallel to each other, and I thoroughly believe in Broadway.  When all is said and done, Broadway is Broadway…The name ‘Broadway’ is synonymous with New York City’s trade and commerce.”

A 1921 advertisement shows a college man studying at a modular desk/bookcase.  His roommate strums a ukelele either as entertainment or simply to be annoying.
Globe-Wernicke commissioned architects Starrett & Van Vleck to renovate the old building.  And renovate they did.

The architects brought the Victorian building into the Edwardian Age.  A soaring first floor showroom, nearly double-height, joined the second floor display rooms as a single expanse of glass and cast iron framed in terra cotta.  A polite line of egg-and-dart molding supported a Greek key freize that separated the upper office floors from the showrooms below.  The entire façade was blanketed in flat, white terra cotta tiles.  At the top-most floor, each of the three sets of paired, arched windows had a centered, semi-engaged Doric column.

A bas-relief terra cotta globe logo decorated the hefty parapet and a round plaque with G-W along with a broad terra cotta ribbon embellished the fourth floor.

photo by Alice Lum
Perhaps to the annoyance of manager Woodward, as the building was being completed Charles S. Nathan opened its office furniture store directly across the street at 450-452 Broadway.

The president of another office furniture manufacturer, James H. Rand, Jr. was on his way to nearly monopolize the business in 1925.  That year his company, the Rand Kardex Bureau, Inc., acquired control of the Library Bureau.    Within a few months, in January 1926, it took over the Globe-Wernicke Company.  Rand called the Globe-Wernicke firm at the time of the sale “one of the largest and oldest manufacturers of office equipment in the country.”

This Gibson Girl-looking housewife is overjoyed with her new sectional bookcases.
According to Rand, the merger would make Rand Karcex Bureau, Inc. “the largest distributor of business equipment in the world, both in sales volume and the number employed.”  Annual sales volume of the concern was expected to exceed $40 million.

Before long James H. Rand, Jr. would have his fingers in many more corporate pies, however.   A year later Remington Rand was formed when the Rand Kardex Company merged with Powers Accounting Machine Company and the Remington Typewriter Company.   Rand vacuumed up other firms and in 1928 The New York Times announced the consolidation of the executive offices of “Remington Typewriter Company, the Dalton Adding Machine Co, the Powers Accounting Machine Co., the Rand Company, the Kardex Company, the Line-a-Time Company, the Kalamazoo Loose Leaf Company, the Safe Cabinet Company and the Baker Vawter Company.”

Although the conglomerate assured that the headquarters would be in the Graybar Building as well as “three entire buildings at 451 Broadway, 374 Broadway and 126 Centre Street,” the gleaming white terra cotta building would not display sectional bookcases and desks for much longer.

On February 12, 1929 the property was sold to the Goldrin Realty Corporation “for investment.”  Interestingly, a full decade later when the building sold again, The Times still reminisced that it “for many years was the New York headquarters of the Globe-Wernicke Company, manufacturers of office equipment.”

For the rest of the century the antiseptic-looking terra cotta building would be used by a variety of tenants.   Then in 2007 the large plate glass windows that once displayed Mission oak bookcases were showing furniture again.

CB2, the Chicago-based store that retails updated furniture, lighting and accessories, moved into the 14,000 square foot space.   Today the clean lines of Starrett & Van Vleck’s 1916 design are essentially intact – a timeless re-do of a Victorian loft building that still works today.

1 comment:

  1. I love your enthuiasm and writing style. I am looking forward on reading the next hub. Rated up.