Friday, October 5, 2012

The 1868 Hoyt Building -- Nos. 873-879 Broadway

photo by Alice Lum
In 1868 the Broadway blocks just north of Union Square were quickly becoming the main shopping district of Manhattan.   Wide brick homes were rapidly being replaced by retail emporiums and that year the well-known merchant Edwin Hoyt, a partner in Hoyt, Spragues & Co., commissioned architect Griffith Thomas to design an imposing store at the northwest corner of 18th Street and Broadway.

On the north end of the block retailer Arnold, Constable & Co. planned a second store to supplement its white marble Canal Street location.  Whether by coincidence or not, Griffith Thomas was given the task of designing this building as well.  The result would be two architecturally harmonious structures that visually flowed together as one.  

The well-dressed shoppers of New York’s carriage trade would enter a five-story Second Empire Commercial-style building clad in rose-colored marble.  A delicate street-level arcade supported ranks of arched openings separated by pilasters and columns. 

A year after completion, Shannon's Manual published this view -- Shannon's Manual 1869 (copyright expired)

Part of the massive structure was leased to smaller firms.  On July 24, 1871 W. M. Humphrey & Bro. advertised in The Sun for “Bow and scarf hands wanted; also, an operator on Wheeler & Wilson machine; only experienced hands need apply.”

photo by Alice Lum
But by 1875 Hoyt, Spragues & Co. was gone and that year Aitken, Son & Co. moved in.  The dry goods store catered to a well-heeled feminine clientele who shopped for dress fabrics, French bonnets, ribbons, and home decorations.     As the Christmas holiday approached in 1878, the firm advertised “Elegant sashes, antique tidies, made-up lace goods, fine hosiery, ties and handkerchiefs, fancy scrap baskets and numerous minor articles of use and ornament.” 

Women shoppers today might be mystified at an earlier advertisement that year which hawked “pringes and galloons.”

When the Arnold, Constable & Co. building sprouted a handsome mansard roof the continuity of the two buildings was lost.  photo by Alice Lum
During the last quarter of the 19th century the popular Aesthetic Movement swept the country and every up-to-date household boasted an Asian-themed nook or room.  A. Vantine & Co., which called itself “The Oriental Store,” sold exotic gifts such as Chinese porcelains, lacquered ware, Turkish rugs and colorful Japanese lanterns.   The firm shared space with Aitken, Son beginning in 1887, when the Hoyt Building became essentially two separate, equal-sized stores. 

A year later owner Solomon Loeb contracted architectural firm Delemos & Cordes to enlarge the two buildings.     The northern structure at mid-block was extended backwards, to the west and south, creating an L around the corner building which was simultaneously extended 23 feet along 18th Street 23 feet.  The nearly seamless extensions, clad in marble, closely matched Thomas’s design; although they exceeded the height of the original building by three stories.

The extension, at left, matched the Broadway facade -- photo by Alice Lum
Following Loeb’s death the owner of A. Vantine & Co. purchased the building.  On November 25, 1905 The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide noted that Irving C. Raymond had hired architect Thomas H. Styles to “add 1 story, alter windows, elevator, stairs” to Nos. 873-879 Broadway at a cost of $15,000.  Unlike Delemos & Cordes’ alterations, this would not be so architecturally-sympathetic.   The decorative triangular pediments, balustrades and bulbous finials were replaced by a nearly-industrial looking addition.

The new top story resulted in an unexpected scandal.   Not only was added floor not fireproof, it was 18 feet higher than the application filed by the architect.   A Special Examination of the Accounts and Methods of the Office of the President of the Borough of Manhattan was ordered by Mayor George B. McClellan to look into the possibility of graft.   Raymond’s addition was closely reviewed.

The investigators found that “The plans and application on file in the department show a state of facts which would not permit the approval thereof in good faith, it appearing upon their face utterly impossible to construct the new story as proposed in the amended application.”   The commissioners concluded “The fact that it was never intended that the law should be complied with in this case is indicated by the findings of our expert, Mr. Hamilton.”

Testimony in the hearings revealed the a mason employed in the alteration, George Potterton, stated that a “payment of money” would secure the approval of the additional story by the Bureau of Buildings.  Building Superintendent Murphy found himself in hot water over his acceptance of bribes.

“This seems to us to be so gross a misuse of discretionary power as to constitute an unfitness for office,” the Report concluded.

photo by Alice Lum
In February 1912 A. A. Vantine & Co. leased the entire building at Nos 436-468 5th Avenue and moved in with its companion firm, Aitken Company, leaving the marble building on Broadway that had been their home for decades.   The Hoyt Building now filled with a variety of smaller tenants, many of them manufacturers. 

While the Sitt & Howell Company was selling rugs and carpeting from the first floor retail area, Gottschalk, Dreyfuss & Davis, Inc. moved here from No. 45 East 20th Street in January 1916.  The wholesale manufacturer printed “hand-painted, die-stamped, offset and lithographed cards” which were sold to stationers.

Through the 1920s the trend continued.  Fishbein & McCabe, leather goods manufacturers, moved here in 1920.  A year later Valkone Dye & Finishing Works took an entire floor.

Bahner, Doscher Company imported dolls and toys from Europe at the same time.  The Pottery & Glass Salesman noted in 1921 that “Among the toy novelties is a mechanical cat, with sparkling eyes, that walks over the floor in most life-like fashion.  The sparkling eyes constitute the novelty feature of the item.  Then, there is a beetle, with sparkling eyes, that walks, lifts its wings and hums.  And so on it goes.”  Bahner, Doscher’s array of dolls included “a wide range of both French and German products, and takes in both dressed and jointed dolls in all sizes.”

The marble ornamentation remains crisp a century and a half after it was carved -- photo by Alice Lum

For years, beginning around this time, Moe Levy & Son would sell men’s clothing from here.   On the corner, from 1920 through 1951 a bank leased the corner space at street level.

In the second half of the century offices on the upper floors became headquarters to the Socialist Workers Party.   Here the leader of the Trotskyite Communist Party planned his Presidential campaign and other Socialist members ran for various offices.    What would seem to be a mere rental agreement proved dangerous to the building.

In 1966 Socialist Judy White was running for Governor of New York and Richard Garza was seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor.  On September 29 four bombs exploded at the headquarters, “causing extensive damage,” according to The New York Times.

Three years later Paul Boutelle was a candidate for Mayor.  On April 24, 1969 15 workers inside the headquarters at No. 873 Broadway were visible from the street.  A hand grenade was tossed at the closed window.  It bounced off the glass and demolished a parked car.

Although the graceful arcade that once graced the first floor has been long-demolished, the rest of the Hoyt Building has been little changed since the 1905 renovation.   The middle four floors still blend harmoniously into the old Arnold, Constable & Co. department store, providing a glimpse back to the days of the post-Civil War shopping district.


  1. Herter Brothers furniture makers moved into the building in 1869. They used their proximity to Arnold, Constable & Co. in their advertising. Your blog is great!

  2. Great piece of history as having grown up in Commack, Long Island (Brentwood then Comac originally) am very familiar with the family of Edwin Hoyt. His widow Maria in the early '60's bestowed the town with the 150 acre Farm in Commack she shared with Edwin Hoyt her spouse as a public park and preserve. Edwin was a Grandson of the individual who built the building. And yes, great blog !!