Thursday, May 14, 2020

Robert Maynicke's 1903 476 Broadway

In 1871 the two converted Federal style houses at Nos. 474 and 476 Broadway were demolished as the Soho neighborhood rapidly transformed to one of loft and store buildings.

Among the jumble of businesses in 474 and 476 Broadway was Clirehugh's Illusive Wig shop. from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art  
In their place architect Richard Morris Hunt designed an elaborate Moorish fantasy faced in cast iron.  It was not only a frenzy of details, but of colors.  American Architect & Building News described it on June 10, 1876 saying, "The panels are filled with porcelain decorated with arabesques, the shafts of the columns are incased in brass and nickel-plated drums; and the mouldings, etc., are painted with various colors."

Hunt's rendering included colored sections to suggest the completed effect.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

In November 1901 prolific developer Henry Corn purchased No. 476 Broadway, which ran through the block to No. 38 Crosby Street.  The Record & Guide reported that he "will erect thereon a 12-sty store and loft building from plans by R. Maynicke."  A few days later the journal gave its approval to replacing Hunt's 30-year old building, saying that rentals in the area were "doing very much better than [they were] a few years ago; and consequently improvements, such as the one Mr. Corn contemplates, are in order."

Construction began on April 16, 1902 and was completed ten months later, on February 28, 1903.  Robert Maynicke had created an 11-story commercial structure faced in beige brick above a three-story limestone base.  Monumental two-story Scamozzi columns upheld a dentiled entablature.  Beaux arts ribboned wreaths flanked the third floor, while the five-story mid-section was relatively unadorned other than splayed stone lentils.  The top three floors returned to Beaux Arts with terra cotta window frames, scrolled brackets and cartouches.

Colossal columns flank a three-sided metal storefront.
Typical of the neighborhood, the building filled with dry goods firms, like that of Henry I. Kleinberger, a silk merchant, who was uncomfortably called for jury duty on one of America's most famous court cases in 1907.

Multi-millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw had an intense hatred of architect Stanford White, who had not only, at least in Thaw's mind, boycotted him from Manhattan high society, but had carried on an intimate relationship with Thaw's wife, showgirl and model Evelyn Nesbit.  On June 25, 1906 he walked into the roof garden of Madison Square Garden and shot White three times in front of hundreds of witnesses.

Kleinberger was the only immigrant on the jury.  Born in Austria, he had come to America while still very young.  On January 30, 1907 Henry Kleinberger was sworn in.  The New-York Tribune described him as "about fifty years of age, has a small mustache, is partly bald and wears glasses."  He may have been a bit unnerved by Thaw who "stood erect as a soldier" and then, as Kleinberger was sworn in, "smiled at his counsel afterward as if he was much pleased."

Henry I. Kleinberger managed to get out of jury service, however.  The following day the judge excused him "because of ill health."  The Jamestown, New York newspaper the Evening Journal reported "This was a complete surprise" and explained "Mr. Kleinberger's physician had informed the district attorney's office of danger to his patient's health, should he serve."

Of the eight firms in the building in 1909, only one, A. L. Silberstein (which manufactured cutlery), was not in the dry goods or apparel business.   The other tenants were M. D. Harris & Co., shirt makers; Jacobs & Janowitch, makers of "white, negligee and work shirts and pajamas;" Samuel Salzman, underwear makers; Garland Mfg. Co., manufacturers of children's blouses; Townsend & Longmire, "webs, braids and metal trimmings;" and Blumenthal, Erdman & Co., lace merchants.

Several of the tenants would remain for years, like Samuel Salzman who was still in the building in 1919 when the neighborhood was plagued with a rash of burglaries and hold-ups.  On October 1 the New York Tribune ran the headline "Robbers Get $865,113 in Two Months."  Among the victims was Samuel Salzman who was robbed of $3,000 worth of silk underwear on September 1.  The haul would amount to about $44,300 today.

In the first years following World War I the tenant list began to change.  Some were, of course, still involved in dry goods and apparel.  In 1920 I. Oliver & Co. made gloves; A. J. Hague & Co., Inc. was an importer of "notions;" and International Belt Co., made belts.  But already electric and mechanical firms were moving in.

By 1918 Beck Duplicator Co., makers of mimeograph machines and the "Beck Speedograph," had space in the building.  In 1920 Henry Hyman & Co., which sold "gas burners, electrical goods, metal goods and stamping" moved onto two floors.  Other tenants were Best Electric Corporation, and the United States Electric Manufacturing Corporation.  

In its August 1920 issue Electrical Record noted that the United States Electric Mfg. Co. was "making a new type of multiple dry battery, which is sold in small individual cells, instead of being made up in a carton as a complete battery.  Elsewhere in the issue it described the firm's 'Usalite' flashlight "with luminous button and safety shut-off, which prevents the battery from being accidentally exhausted."

Electrical Record magazine, December, 1920 (copyright expired)

The building continued to be home to similar firms.  Beck Duplicator remained for years, joined in 1939 by the United States Bronze Sign Co., Inc. and in the first years of the 1940's by the Amagamated Radio Television Corp. and the American Radio Hardware Corp.

The last quarter of the 20th century saw the first hint of the changing personality of Soho as an emerging arts district.  In 1975 artist and musician John Fischer founded Environ on the top floor--a sprawling 5,000 square foot space.  He moved into the rear of the loft with roommates Dan and Chris Brubeck.  The musicians were sons of legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck and would form the Brubeck Brothers Quartet.

Environ was the scene of jazz and concert performances, the first being staged in July 1975.  Events here were covered by the mainstream newspapers, like The New York Times which announced that Michael Sell, jazz saxophonist would perform on September 13, 1977.

By 1981 the art gallery Thread Waxing Space was in the building and would remain until about 2001.  

The building still saw commercial tenants, of course.  One of them was experiencing problems with its postal machine in September 2001.  The building was on the list of stops for equipment repairer Harriet Cordero, scheduled for later in the morning on September 11.  Cordero's schedule put her at the World Trade Center at 9:00, but the office at No. 476 Broadway lured her there first.  The New York Times explained "she made the detour because the company on Broadway was a new customer, without a contract, and she would get credit toward her bonus for doing that work.  The job at the trade center carried no bonus."

As she worked on the company's postal machine, the first of the terrorist-hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center.  "My life was spared because I made a decision because I live in a capitalist country," she told Times journalist Joseph B. Treaster.  "I decided to get paid first."

In 2008 the building was converted to a mix of offices and apartments.  

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Gregory P. Gaddis for requesting this post


  1. The Hunt facade had to be spectacular when erected. As is all too common in NYC, that architectural gem had a very short life span.

    1. I wish I had been able to find a vintage photo of it even though those vibrant colors would not be evident.