|photographer unknown, via WriteOpinions.com|
In his 1884 History of New York City, Benson J. Lossing wrote "Mr. Stewart, by great commercial sagacity and operating upon a cash basis, had accumulated a fortune sufficient to enable him to purchase Washington Hall, which had been used for many years as a hotel."
|Stewart's magnificent store would replace an equally magnificent structure. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
The glistening white marble upper floors sat upon a storefront with Corinthian columns and expanses of plate glass show windows. The tireless diarist and former mayor Philip Hone visited the store a few weeks before its completion. "Mr. Stewart's splendid edifice, erected on the site of Washington Hall...is nearly finished, and his stock of dry goods will be exhibited on the shelves in a few days. There is nothing in London or Paris to compare with this dry goods palace." His sole problem was the plate glass show windows which he called a "useless piece of extravagance." (He envisioned a boy's snowball producing disaster.)
|The gleaming white structure stood out among brownstone and brick buildings. Lights & Shadows of New York Life, 1872, (copyright expired)|
The New York Herald reported "When we visited the store about 12 o'clock, we found a line of carriages drawn up in front reaching from Chambers to Reade streets. Crowds of fashionable people were passing in and out, and all were warm in their expressions of gratification of all the beautiful and tasteful arrangements and architecture of the this whole building."
|from the collection of the New York Public Library.|
Visiting A. T. Stewart's was as much a social activity as a shopping event. A gallery encircled the rotunda for promenading--the popular Victorian ritual of seeing and being seen. The Continental Monthly commented that the name Stewart evoked "a train of ideas, a marble front, plate glass, gorgeous drapery, legions of clerks, paradise of fashion, crowds of customers, and all the fascination of a day of shopping."
|Stewart's extravagance stopped short of waste. He is shown here chiding a clerk for using too much twine. Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, June 1876 (copyright expired)|
The unrelenting northern movement of commerce prompted Stewart to erect an even larger retail store in 1862, engulfing the entire block of Broadway between East 9th and 10th Streets. No. 280 Broadway now held the firm's wholesale store and its clothing manufacturing shops. The building was enlarged again in 1872 by architect Frederick Schmidt.
|In 1876 the store had grown with several additions. Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, June 1876 (copyright expired)|
|King's Handbook of New York City pictured the 1884 expansion. (copyright expired)|
When war broke out in Europe, offices in No. 280 Broadway became home to the Army Recruiting Headquarters. On June 6, 1917 it got a somewhat surprising neighbor. The New York Times reported "On the first floor of 280 Broadway, separated only by a few doors from the headquarters of the United States Army recruiting in the city, the British Recruiting Mission began...to enlist British subjects for service with their own colors"
|When this photograph was taken around 1917 the ground floor held a barber shop (far left), a tailor shop, and the Nicolas Restaurant. from the collection of the New-York Historical Society|
The first threat to the marble structure came when Munsey announced in June 1922 his intentions "as soon as the cost of building materials and labor are reduced...to replace the building with a thoroughly modern structure." Apparently those costs never came down to Munsey's liking and the building, by now known popularly as the Sun Building, survived.
|The handsome three-faced clock was attached to the building's corner announcing that "The Sun, It Shines for All" photo by Vinit Parmar|
Surprisingly, when Frank A. Munsey died, he left the Sun Building to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On January 2, 1928 the newspaper purchased the it from the museum. In reporting the sale The Times reminded readers that "The property was largely reconstructed and thoroughly modernized when Mr. Munsey took it over for his newspapers."
With the onslaught of the Great Depression, The Sun management took steps to help the economy. In September 1933 it announced it had placed a $500,000 order for 24 new printing presses. The statement explained that the order was made "as a contribution not merely to the improvement of its own plant but also to the success of the re-employment and buy-now campaigns of the National Recovery Administration."
The Sun got an unlikely bedfellow when The Times of London opened its offices on the top floor. A near riot broke out on June 8, 1939 when when the newspaper printed coverage of "the first visit of a reigning British monarch and his Queen to these former-British colonies," as described by The New York Times.
The 13,000 copies distributed to newsstands sold out by 9:00 in the morning. The newspaper then sent out the 2,400 copies held back for mail requests, but those too, sold out quickly. The Times reported "Then near pandemonium set in on the seventh floor of the Sun Building, 280 Broadway, where the London paper has its offices. Hundreds of would-be customers were turned away." Copies that normally sold for 5 cents were bringing $1 on the streets, "with plenty of takers." The Times of London had to disconnect its telephones in order so that the staff could work.
Following the end of World War II Henry Modell, owner of the sporting goods chain, established the Modell Veteran Training Center in a retail space. Mayor William O'Dwyer officially opened the facility on March 23, 1946. The dual-purpose establishment both trained wounded and handicapped veterans for private life and sold surplus war supplies.
By 1949 the training center had been phased out, replaced by a Modell's store. It was at the Broadway location that the mayor cut the cake to celebrate the chain's 60th anniversary.
The following year The Sun merged with The World-Telegram. Management spokesmen informed the press that the merger "included only The Sun's name, good-will and circulation lists." In other words, it was essentially the end of the Sun's operation. And nearly the end of the Sun Building.
The property was purchased by a syndicate headed by Charles F. Noyes. On January 26, 1951 it announced that a skyscraper would be erected on the site. The New York Times reported "The new building will be about forty stories tall and will contain 1,000,000 square feet of space."
|The New York Times published a rendering of the proposed building on January 27, 1951.|
In 1966 the city took possession of the building after it and the historic Tweed Courthouse next door were condemned for a 52-story tower designed by Edward Durell Stone. That project stalled but, as Municipal Services Administrator John T. Carroll explained on April 22, 1975 it "is not legally buried." Therefore the city decided "not to invest any funds in rehabilitation 280 Broadway" although city offices had been moved in.
The decision led to shameful consequences. On August 5, 1981 The New York Times columnist Michael Goodwin wrote "The white marble facade still gleams in the sun and the cast-iron columns above the street recall a grand past, but, inside, 280 Broadway is full of the signs of a grim present."
Plaster fell from the ceilings of the halls, window frames were on the verge of falling out, and large cracks appeared in the walls. After rainfalls, ceiling tiles would be found on the floor. An administrator in one department pointed out a partitioned-off area in an office. "The building workers told us not to use this part of the room because it's so dangerous."
Any chance of demolition was squelched in October 1986 when the No. 280 Broadway was designated a New York City landmark. Protection of the structure did not mean improvement of the interior conditions, however. In February 1994 the newly-appointed Commissioner of General Services, William J. Diamond, visited the building. The word he used to described it was "atrocious."
Referring to the landmark designation he told The New York Times architecture journalist David W. Dunlap, it was "saved but saved for what? You're essentially in an office slum." He suggested selling the building to a private developer for renovation and restoration, pointing out that the still-intact rotunda "could be turned into a food court."
|photograph by Beyond My Ken|