Friday, August 17, 2012

The 1882 Rogers, Peet & Co. Building -- Nos. 569-575 Broadway

When William Backhouse Astor died in 1875 his more than $100 million estate was passed on to his two sons, William and John Jacob III.   They continued to run the family’s real estate empire from the 1835 Greek Revival building at 81 Prince Street, steps away from from Broadway.

But five years later, the brothers decided on a move uptown.  They commissioned Thomas Stent, the Astor family architect of choice, to design a new Astor headquarters on West 26th Street, and an imposing commercial building to replace the old one.

On the downtown site, Stent designed a what Sanitary and Heating Age announced in 1881 would be a six-story structure with "tin roofs and iron cornices."  Stretching along Broadway from 569 to 575, the plot also engulfed the Prince Street property.  The projected cost was $350,000.  Construction began on March 28, 1881 and was completed a year later, almost to the day, on March 29. 

The Broadway neighborhood had become one of expensive hotels (the Metropolitan Hotel was directly across the street and the white marble St.Nicholas Hotel was just two blocks to the south) and refined shopping.  Stent’s handsome new building was just the ticket for a large retailer.  

Constructed of red brick with contrasting stone, it blended what has been called the Commercial Palace Style with Ruskinian touches like the splayed stone treatment above the second floor windows.   While creating a harmonious whole, each story was treated differently in its shape and size of window openings, carved ornamentation and details—such as the polished granite colonettes at the fourth and fifth floors.  A wonderful cast iron storefront with handsome Corinthian columns offered broad expanses of glass.

Six years earlier, M. N. Rogers and Charles B. Peet had joined forces to open a men’s and boys’ clothing store on Broome Street, called Rogers, Peet & Co.   At a time when ready-made clothing was considered lower class, the firm offered well-made goods at affordable, if not inexpensive, prices.  But the store’s success depended as much on marketing as it did on its apparel.  Rogers, Peet instructed its sales team on courtesy and service.  By treating its customers as though they were wealthy patrons of a more exclusive store, the company guaranteed return business.

By the time 575 Broadway was ready for occupancy, Rogers, Peet & Co. was ready to move uptown.  On March 1, 1882, a folksy advertisement in the New-York Tribune mentioned “Does everybody know that we have moved since last Fall to a much larger store!  We refrain from saying how large the new store is—come and see for yourself.  You will find an ample stock of men’s and boys’ clothing, men’s and boys’ furnishing goods, boy’s hats and caps, and withal, the same obliging disposition toward visitors that characterized the old store—glad to have you drop in.”

Charles Austin Bates wrote a rather self-indulgent periodical entitled Charles Austin Bates Criticisms.  Regarding Rogers, Peet, however, he had only praise.  Of a particular sales clerk he said “He always remembers my name.  He generally remembers the size I wear of different things.  He always suggests that I have the bundle sent up, no matter how small it is.  When I want a particular tie fished out of the front window he always gets it as if he had rather sell from the window than from the counter.”

Bates insisted “If I were running a store I believe I would send my clerks around to buy things of this salesman as the quickest way of teaching them to sell goods.”  He was also impressed by the Rogers, Peets’ ticket that was included in each purchase.   The check promised money back on an item that either did not wear well or was not satisfactory.   Every purchase was delivered the same day, packaged in what Bates called “a good, clean, strong-looking box.”

More important than the quality of the box, was its small label.  “The name of the firm is so small that you have to look closely to see it,” noted Bates.   The reason for the discreet label was simple:  “The package does not advertise to every passerby that you have been buying clothes of a ready-made clothing store.”

 A Rogers, Peet & Co. advertisement in the New-York Tribune in 1883 touted the store’s above-board practices.  “We have ready for your inspection a stock of Winter clothes for men and boys peerless in variety and honest in make up; every lot labeled with a truthful description of its kind and quality, and every price warranted by our legal guarantee, which insures you complete satisfaction or your money bank.  These are the unassailable ramparts behind which we invite you to deal.”

The marketing philosophy of Rogers, Peet & Co. was inspired.  Window shoppers were well-treated in the store.  The Rogers, Peet & Co. philosophy was “Sightseers are welcome.  A looker to-day may mean a buyer to-morrow.”   Salesmen were sent off to golf clubs with samples to stir the interest of men who had no intention of shopping.   And, realizing that its customers were not Vanderbilts or Belmonts, the store worded its ads in the vernacular of the more common shopper:  “Our straw hat business is described in a jiffy:  Same grade and same kinds of straw as kept by the very best hatter.  In variety, you get no advantage buying here; but you get the same hats for less money, and our assurance that if anything goes wrong during the ‘life’ of the hat—you get your money back.”

An advertisement in 1882 cautioned shoppers not to overlook the "fixings" department -- (copyright expired)

While the clothing store took up the retail space, the upper floors of 575 Broadway filled with hat dealers as the dry goods and millinery district centered itself in the neighborhood.

Frank F. Hodges & Co. and Thomas H. Wood & Co. were among the early tenants.   An article in Millinery Trade Review in August 1889 gives an idea why Victorian hats nearly wiped out entire bird species.  It noted that Thomas H. Wood was,

...showing all the rich novelties of the season in birds and fancy feather patterns, including new wing effects, single and double, full bonnet and turban trimmings, with top of front mountings, novel arrangements of birds, bird and foliage branches, and a very large assortment of medium grades of fancies, both imported and of their own make.  Their lines of ostrich goods are exceptionally large to meet the increased demand.  Black plumes and tips are prominent, while the latest ideas in novel shaded effects and novelty combinations of ostrich are also shown.

At the same time, Frank f. Hodges was showing the latest in bonnets and hats “in the fur-felts,” and L. Duhain Jr. & Co. offered “an attractive line of fancy feathers, birds and wing effects” and “an assortment of velvet flowers with black and shaded foliage.”

Other millinery concerns in the building were Hirsch & Park, makers of straw hats for ladies, misses and children; and H. O. Bernard Manufacturing Co.

H. O. Bernard offered a wide selection of straw headwear in 1895 (copyright expired)

In 1902, Rogers, Peet & Co. moved to a new store further north on Broadway, ending two decades at the Prince Street and Broadway location.  The building was sold by the estates of William Astor and John Jacob Astor on May 17, 1925.  The vast spaces once filled with men’s shirts and boys’ knickers became home to the Lightolier Company, dealers in electric light fixtures.

Through the middle of the 20th century the Broadway neighborhood suffered neglect, but resurged when the SoHo artist district took shape and the cast iron historic district was rediscovered.   In 1996, 575 Broadway was remodeled by Arata Isozaki as the Guggenheim Soho museum.  Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff & Goettel executed the rehabilitation of the building, not only bringing it into the 20th century with new electrical and plumbing, but analyzing the layers of paint to discern the original 1882 colors.

Wanderers of SoHo’s art galleries, boutiques and museums were stunned when only three years later the Guggenheim SoHo closed.  On March 26, 1999, The New York Times reported that “The Solomon R. Guggenheim’s SoHo branch, whose closing in January was rumored to be permanent, will reopen—7,000 square feet smaller—on May 12.  Most of the ground floor occupied by the museum at 575 Broadway, at the corner of Prince Street, will soon become a Prada store, the Italian retailer’s third in SoHo.”

Prada commissioned Dutch architect Remment Lucal Koolhaas to renovate the space into what the AIA Guide to New York City calls “a whimsical wonderland.”  The upper floors filled with the upscale magazine publishers of Art in America, Interview and Antiques; and offices like those of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics.

In January 2006, a devastating fire raged throughout five of the six floors.  Two hundred firefighters fought the blaze for three hours before extinguishing it.  Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Ronald R. Spadafora announced that most of the interior would have to be rebuilt, “but its brick façade escaped virtually unscathed,” wrote The New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos.  Today there is no hint of the fire.  The striking brick-and-stone building is as handsome today as when Rogers, Peet & Co. sold its first shirt in 1882.

photographs taken by the author


  1. Rogers Peet really brings back memories: When I was a child (mid 1960's) my school uniforms came from Rogers Peet and I remember the mid August visits there to be fitted for the requisite blazer. Where the store was at that point, I have not the foggiest.

    Another great post in one of the best columns in the blogosphere. That's almost intergalactic.

    1. wow. thanks for the REALLY generous compliment. Glad you enjoy the blog. During the mid-20th century there were several Rogers Peet stores in Manhattan--Warren Street, Union Square, 5th Avenue at 41st Street, 5th Avenue at 48th street.

  2. I loved your post and really appreciate the history of 569 Broadway. Do you have any information regarding the building that preceeded the 1880s building? My third great grandfather, John Prescot, was a watchmaker and his business was located at 569 Broadway from the mid 1860's until he died in 1880. He emigrated from Ireland in the 1850s or 1860s.
    Thanks again for the history.

    1. I do not know much about the building that preceded this one. Worth digging into! It is great that you know so much about your ancestor. congratulations on your research

  3. When did the last Rogers Peet store close up shop (the only references I can find says "mid-1980s" ... and what finally drove them out of business when competitors like Brooks Bros are still thriving??