Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finchley's Castle -- Nos. 564-568 5th Avenue

photo by Alice Lum
By 1867 Dr. John W. Dowling had amassed a fortune large enough to afford a brownstone rowhouse in what would soon be the most fashionable residential neighborhood in Manhattan.  His staid brownstone residence at No. 568 Fifth Avenue was as proper as the doctor’s Victorian demeanor.  Yet the house was never a happy one for extended periods.

Dowling was appointed Dean of the New York Homoeopathic Medical College in 1871.  The success he enjoyed in his professional life did not extend into the halls of his Fifth Avenue home.  Three years after his marriage to Minnie Russell, she died in childbirth.  The infant succumbed three months later.

The doctor and his second wife, Frances A. Dowley lived contentedly here until her death on May 11, 1888.  Four years later John Dowling tried his luck at matrimony again, marrying Edith Williams.   But the North American Journal of Homoeopathy soon noted that she “was deprived of his care and affection by the dire malady which overtook him within a few months of their union.”

Dr. John W. Dowling died in the house in 1892.  By now the Dowling house was surrounded by the homes of New York’s wealthiest citizens.  Across the street was the home of Jay Gould, who too would die that year, in December.  Frederick Roosevelt, cousin of the future President and the millionaire brothers Robert and Ogden Goelet were all neighbors.

But that was all about to change.  A year later William Waldorf Astor razed his brownstone mansion at the corner of 33rd Street to erect the hulking Waldorf Hotel.  It opened the floodgates of commerce into the hitherto exclusive stretch of 5th Avenue.  One by one the elite mansions were abandoned to be razed or converted to commercial structures.

Among these was No. 568.  In 1898 the three brownstone houses stretching from No. 564 to 568 were sold to Charles F. Miller.  Within a month they were sold two more times, going finally to Horace A. Hutchins of the Standard Oil Company.  In their place a six-story “whitestone” store and office building arose known as the Euclid Building.  On ground level was the upscale retail apparel stores, Renfern’s, which offered “tailor suits, evening gowns and millinery.”

In April 1909 Renfern’s took space in the newly-remodeled building around the corner at No. 7 East 47th Street.   The entire building at Nos. 564-568 was being taken over by another retailer.

In 1910 J. M. Gidding & Co. exclusive women’s outer apparel spent $100,000 to remodel the building as its new store.  In reporting the move The New-York Tribune noted “It is in the heart of the fashionable shopping section of Fifth avenue…Much care has been shown in decorating and furnishing the interior of the building, and a great deal of space is given for patrons to make their way about.”

J. M. Gidding & Co. moved into the Euclid Building in 1910 -- The New-York Tribune, 1910 (copyright expired)
J. M. Gidding & Co. catered to New York’s carriage trade, as evidenced by a 1914 advertisement that offered “Tailleur and Costume Suits $55 to $145.”  That price range today would be about $900 to $2400.

The new Finchley's facade would include astounding detailing -- photo by Alice Lum
While Gidding & Co. was marketing expensive clothing to New York’s female socialites, Edmund L. Goodman entered the high-end retail arena on the menswear side.  In 1916 he opened his haberdashery, Finchley’s, steps away from Gidding & Co. at No. 5 West 46th Street.    Quickly the English-styled clothier would achieve a moneyed following, causing The Clothier and Furnisher to say, in 1924, “Finchley’s has for many years enjoyed the reputation of being one of New York’s most exclusive men’s shops.”
The new facade would be like nothing else along the exclusive Fifth Avenue shopping district -- photo by Alice Lum
That same year Edmund L. Goodman decided it was time for a 5th Avenue address.    He acquired the Euclid Building and commissioned architect Beverly King to do a makeover.    Goodman wanted an English atmosphere for his tweeds and ties and King produced.    By the end of the year store opened in what was now known as “Finchley’s Castle.”

A slice of Olde England, Finchley's Castle was completed in 1924 --photo NYPL Collection
A storybook façade echoed Elizabethan England with a stucco tower, half-timbering, and fretwork bargeboard along the gable.  The bulk of the building sat a few feet back from the tower, behind a charming arcade planted with small shrubbery at the second floor.
Architect King's minute detail included a beautifully pierced bargeboard -- photo by Alice Lum
Edmund Goodman died in 1952, but Finchley’s stayed on in its Tudor castle until the 1970s.  Sadly, with the removal of the exclusive mens’ store the wonderful arcaded street entrance was removed.  In its place is a wall of glass that better allows tourists to see the tawdry souvenirs sold inside.  Amazingly, however, the remainder of the eccentric façade survives, including the original arched doorway to the tower.
photo by Alice Lum

UPDATEIn April 2017 demolition of the Finchley building is scheduled to begin soon, with no outrage nor protest from preservationists and historians.


  1. The loss of the first floor arcade and the tower bell cap are unfortunate but taken as a whole, including the eclectic collection of adjacent commercial structures, although modified and showing some losses, this stretch of Fifth Avenue is fairly intact and a surprising joy to see amid the ever increasing blank glass walls and flashy signage of newer construction.

  2. My father was employed at Finchley's during the 40's-50's as a salesman and General Manager.
    My father actually worked for Edmund Goodman in the 30's and ended up good friends with him until his passing. I remember watching the parades on Fifth Ave. from the upper windows of that wonderful building as a young boy.

    1. Hello there! Not sure if you set it so replies go to your email, so this may be futile, but this note really caught my eye and I'd be curious to hear a bit more. I'm a journalist who writes about the city and I've long been fascinated by this curious building. I'm considering writing on it, and I'd love to hear a bit more about what life was like inside the place back when. If you happen to see this, please write me (I'll also gladly tell you a bit more about myself and what I write about). - Alex

    2. This building, and much of the block is being prepped for demolition now.

  3. It's future, or lack of one, is documented here - going down promptly, unfortunately. Fifth Ave will continue to lose her past, and get shinier and taller: http://therealdeal.com/2016/07/19/extell-to-raze-10-buildings-in-diamond-district/

  4. Since no one has mentioned it here already, there is an architectural twin to this building in Chicago, which also housed a branch of Finchley's. The Chicago branch was much taller, but otherwise looks almost identical. It has been owned by DePaul University since 1972, housing classrooms and administrative offices, and is very well preserved. DePaul renamed the building O'Malley Place in 1980. https://www.depaul.edu/campus-maps/buildings/Pages/omalley-place.aspx