Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The 1930 Hoover Building - 505 Eighth Avenue

At around 2:00 on the afternoon of April 13, 1904 the Sagamore Hotel suffered a catastrophic structural failure.  The corner section of the decades-old structure on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 35th Street collapsed to the street.  One person was killed and six others injured.

The Sagamore Hotel as it appeared just minutes after the collapse.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
The site was developed with four four-story structures.  Steps away from Pennsylvania Station they sat within what was rapidly becoming Manhattan's Garment District by the late 1920's.  On May 14, 1928 the New York Evening Post reported that the newly-formed 505 Eighth Avenue Corporation, headed by Jacob M. Eisenberg, had leased the combined properties for 21 years with a 21-year renewal option.  "It is made a part of the lease that the tenant shall immediately proceed to erect a building of not less than twenty-three stories," said the article.

The syndicate commissioned architect Chester James Storm to design the office, store and loft building.  Completed in 1930, the 25-story structure was clad in orange brick and terra cotta.  The second through fourth floors were encrusted with an armor of terra cotta decorations in both the au courant Art Deco style and frothier fashions of a generation earlier.

Called the Hoover Building, possibly in honor of the sitting President, it rose 17 stories before the legally-required series of setbacks began.  Storm designed a craggy mountainscape with protruding elements as unusual as the lower floor decorations.

Timing might have seemed unfortunate for the developers, considering that the Great Depression began halfway through construction.  But the modern building drew important tenants immediately upon opening.  Although Chester James Storm had designed several stores on street level, they were taken by a single tenant.  On December 28, 1930 The New York Times reported that the Sachs Quality Furniture Company had leased "six stores, the basements, mezzanines and two upper floors in the new twenty-six-story [sic] Hoover Building."  The massive space engulfed around 40,000 square feet.

Sachs Quality Furniture Company had been in business since 1896.  Among the renovations the firm made was the creation of a large meeting space, the Sachs Auditorium, which was available to outside groups.

photograph by Wurts Brothers from the collection of the New York Public Library

A few apparel firms moved into the Hoover Building, like Bunny Togs, Inc. which took space in 1933.  But it was unrelated tenants as well as the activities within the Sachs Auditorium which were notable.  

Among the somewhat surprising renters was the Art Mart gallery.  On May 23, 1936 The New York Sun reported "A new list of paintings, water colors and prints have been put on exhibition at the Art Mart, 505 Eighth avenue.  The showing is a varied one, and includes the work of a dozen or more young artists, who long since attracted favorable attention."

The Sachs Auditorium was used by a wide variety of groups.  On June 6, 1940 75 women attended the bridge charity event hosted by the Community Councils of New York City according to the Long Island Daily Press.   The following month the National Doll Show was held here under the auspices of the American Hobby Federation.  A newspaper noted "The show itself is a unique one, being the first exhibit devoted entirely to dolls.  Collectors from all over the country have made contributions to the show."

In November that year the annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition was staged.  The Long Island Star-Journal noted that this year it "features abaca fibre work of Philippine head-hunters for the first time in the United States."

The ultra-modern entrance lobby used myriad materials.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Of course the Sachs company used its auditorium for its own purposes, as well.   In 1940 the furniture company organized the Sachs Foundation, the purpose of which caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt.  In her syndicated column "My Day," which appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express on March 4, she said:

I have just been told about the Sachs Foundation, which was started with the idea of encouraging young interior decorators and which is now contemplating including branches of musical training and fashion designs in their annual competition.  The competition for interior decoration is open to students in accepted institutions in Greater New York.

The first-place design for interior decoration that year was reproduced in full scale and installed as an exhibition in the Sachs Auditorium.

The exhibition had apparently been dismantled by August that year when the School for Brides opened in the auditorium.  The Bayside NY Times reported "A special invitation has been issued to the many young women who have just become brides or who are about to walk down the middle aisle to the wedding march.  They have been invited to learn how to cope with the many problems that arise to face the new bride at a 'School for Brides' designed to instruct them in the arts of cooking and homemaking so that they will shine alike in bridegroom's and mother-in-law's eyes."

Wartime altered the American Hobby Federation's annual exhibition and in 1942 it featured included ship and airplane models as well as photographs made by active military men.

Mid-century continued to see non-apparel tenants move into the Hoover Building.  In April 1950 Natale & Sons opened its new decorator's showroom.  All the pieces were designed by Louis Natale, the firm's present, and their innovative designs impressed a reporter from The New York Times.

Night tables have trays, mirror-topped or made of Formica, which slide out to hold ash trays or glasses.  Credenzas have hidden drawers suggested for storing money or jewels...Almost every table and chest of drawers is equipped with a bar.  A massive built-in wall unit houses a desk, books, records, radio, phonograph and television set and an outfitted bar.

One large tenant that took space in 1951 was the New York buying office of the Wiener Buying Corporation.  In announcing the opening the firm noted that 505 Eighth Avenue was "The heart of the style capital of the world."

The 1960's saw tenants like At Home Abroad, which rented vacationers "small apartments in European cities to palatial estates at Mediterranean resorts;" novelty jewelry firm Windsor Enterprises, Inc. which fashioned cuff links, charm bracelets and blazer buttons from coins; and the offices of the chain-store, Westons.

The next decade brought a decidedly different type of tenant--the media.  Khronika Press, a publishing house operated by Soviet émigrés, opened here.  It originally intended to print Russian language poetry and memoirs, but when the human rights movement gained momentum in the Soviet Union, its focus turned to dissemination of covertly-received information in America.   

On December 10, 1977 The New York Times reported "The thing has reached the point now where the address on [Edward Kline's] business headquarters--505 Eighth Avenue in the garment district--is known to all sorts of Soviet citizens who each month sneak out into the mail hundreds of pages of reports and pleas."

In 1979 the eight-year old Institute of New Cinema Artists, Inc. took space for its studios and classrooms.  Its unpaid president was actor and playwright Ossie Davis who described the group to Glenn Collins of The New York Times in November that year as having "trained and placed hundreds of low-income youths, most of them members of minority groups, in worthwhile film-making and television jobs."

Winners in the several categories of Summer '79: The Big Apple Music Talent Contest that year received one-year recording contracts.

The entire 19th floor was occupied by the noncommercial WBAI-FB radio station.  The Times journalist John Corry said of it in August 1981 "There are people who swear by radio station WBAI; there are others who swear at it.  Either way, WBAI is listener sponsored and noncommercial, and as always, it needs money."  Corry brought up that condition in his reporting that the station was sponsoring a fund-raising boat ride around Manhattan.

At the same time Sing Out! magazine was published here.  The folk-song publication was partly founded by singer Pete Seeger and he regularly supplied columns.

N.Y. Amsterdam News, January 19, 1985

Institute of New Cinema Artists, Inc. remained in the building well into the 1980's.  Among the features of WBAI-FM at the time was a monthly radio show called "Citizen Kafka."  One of the show's creators was the unknown comedian, John Goodman, who played Farmer Bob, described by Goodman as "a lecherous hayseed who harvested Cabbage Patch love dolls."  The actor, of course, went on to television fame as Dan Connor in the series "Roseanne."

The striking facade of Chester James Storm's Hoover Building survives intact after nearly 90 years; its terra cotta decorations a nearly unique example of transitional architecture.

photographs by the author


  1. I've forwarded the link to one of the people at WBAI.

  2. The WBAI person I sent this to wrote me, "We were on the 10th floor, and had one small office on 19. Sing Out was not in the building concurrent to us. Citizen Kafka was a person (pseudonym for Richie Schulberg), and not the name of his weekly (not monthly) show. John Goodman was already in "Raising Arizona" and had done notable theater work by the time he was on Cid's show. People would show up Sunday evenings just to see if they could get an autograph. "