Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Mathew Brady Studio Building - 359 Broadway


The northward transformation of Broadway from residential to commercial had already reached 359 Broadway in 1834 when George Endicott moved his music printing business into the building.  By 1850, the district teemed with activity.  James Thompson ran a "confectionary saloon" at 235 Broadway--a high-end hybrid grocery, candy store, and cafe.  In 1851 he purchased and demolished 359 Broadway, and began construction of a five-story marble-fronted building.

On June 19, 1851, Thompson notified his customers that his business had temporarily moved to 315 Broadway "where they will remain during the erection of their building at 359 Broadway."  The notice added Thompson & Son "hope to make [the new store] the most complete of its kind in this country."

Although the building was not yet fully completed, Thompson & Son opened the store portion of its business on December 23, offering "the largest assortment in the city of Fancy Boxes, choice Confectionery, articles for Christmas Trees, Mottoes, Plum Cakes, Ornaments for the table, &c."  The notice cautioned, "The new saloons [i.e., cafe] will not be opened until after the holidays." 

The architectural firm of Field & Correja treated each floor of the elaborate Italianate style structure differently.  The fully-arched openings of the second floor were capped with foliate bands and keystones.  Those of the third floor were segmentally-arched, and the fourth floor windows were slightly rounded.  The architects gave the fifth floor openings--traditionally the least interesting--the most unusual treatment.  The square windows sat below "bell-cast" arches, giving the impression of pulled-back draperies.  Each level was divided horizontally by intermediate cornices and vertically by paneled pilasters--right, center, and left.  The elaborate bracketed cornice was crowned by cast iron fencing anchored by square marble drums.

What might be termed a gourmet shop today, Thompson & Son offered a wide variety of delicacies, many of them imported.  On December 30, 1851 the firm ran two back-to-back advertisements in The New York Times, one touting "bon bon boxes, &c.," which included "a large assortment of handsome French boxes, sacs, roleaux and fancy articles filled with the finest confectionary and chocolate."  The other ad focused on the grocery side of the business:

Articles for New Year's Tables--Boned Turkeys, Jellied Tongues and Sounds, Pickled Oysters, Salads, Ornamented Pyramids, Baskets, &c.--Mottoes of every kind, small fancy Cakes, Moulds of Jelly, Ice Cream, Charlotte Russe and Blanc Mange.

At the time of the advertisement, photographer Mathew Brady was in London, where his daguerreotypes won a first prize and three medals at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  He returned to America in 1853, and in March leased the top floors of 359 Broadway for his studio and photographic gallery.  Brady initially listed the address as his home, as well, suggesting he lived on the topmost floor.  (He operated a second, less opulent location at 205 Broadway.)

Mathew B. Brady, The Photographic Art Journal, volume 1, 1851 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in The Knickerbocker in July that year said, "Brady's new and extensive Daguerrean Establishment, 359 Broadway, over Thompson's Saloon, is recently completed, and the public are invited to view the many improvements combined in this magnificent gallery."  Brady had sumptuously outfitted each floor.  The ad claimed there was "no similar establishment either in this country or in Europe."  It continued in part:

The facilities for the production of first-class pictures are unrivalled.  An additional building has been erected, by which the Reception-Saloon, Ladies' Dressing-Room, and the Operating-rooms are on the same floor, thus forming a new and most desirable arrangement.  The Gallery in connection with the gold gallery, corner of Fulton and Broadway, contains a matchless collection of Daguerreotypes of American and European celebrities, unequalled on the continent.

The resplendent gallery exhibited examples of Brady's work, including many famous Americans.  The Knickerbocker, July 1853 (copyright expired)

Despite the relatively new technology of photography, Brady dealt with stiff competition.  His advertisements stressed his dominance in the industry as well as his advanced methods.  In the March 7, 1855 issue of The Crayon, he noted that "the French have been regarded as the only successful practitioners of this beautiful novelty in Art," but advised, "an examination, however, of the results exhibited at his [i.e., Brady's] establishment" would prove the "superiority of American Daguerreotypes."  The ad promised "any desired size" from life size to small miniatures, and noted they could be hand-colored.

The Boston Directory, 1854 (copyright expired)

In the meantime, Thompson & Son's business flourished.  In June 1856, it advertised a supply of "Black Hamburgh, Sweet Water, Chasselas and other fine varieties of Grapes from Hot-Houses in the vicinity which they can offer in better order than those brought from a distance."  And as Christmas approached that year, Thompson & Son touted holiday presents "just received from Paris."  They included "a splendid assortment of Fancy Boxes, Sacs, Cornets, Roleaux, fine French confectionery and chocolate, Nougat de Provence, &c."

The shop's offerings for the "New Year's Tables" a few weeks later included delicacies like jellied turkeys, blanc mange, pickled oysters, tongues, and green and mock turtle soup.

Brady continued to fight his for customers' attention.  There were approximately 40 daguerreotype studios along Broadway at the time, all touting their craft.  As the Presidential election neared in 1856, Brady cleverly arranged to photograph each of the candidates, including Republican candidate John Charles Fremont and his running mate William L. Dayton; James Buchanan and J. C. Breckenridge, on the Democratic ticket; and Millard Fillmore and A. A. Donelson of the American party.  Supporters could buy copies at 359 Broadway for $3 (about $105 in 2023).

Brady posed candidate John Charles Fremont in his military uniform.  from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1856, Brady introduced the newly developed Ambrotype to his offerings, and an advertisement boasted that the lower gallery was now devoted to it.  On June 6, 1856, the New-York Dispatch wrote, "To understand truly what Brady has accomplished in his profession, one must visit his peerless Gallery of Portraits, 359 Broadway, where all the celebrities of the nation seem to speak from the pictured walls."  The article noted, as well, that Brady employed a full-time water color painter, whose "flesh tints are the very duplicates of nature."

A writer from the Photographic and Fine Art Journal visited 359 Broadway in 1858, and noted that Brady was "up to his ears in business," employing 26 people full-time.   The New-York Dispatch commented, "Brady's rooms are crowded from 'morn till dewy eve' with the elite of society," and said that out-of-towners did not consider their tour of New York completed "until they have seen his stupendous Gallery."

The completion of the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable was celebrated with "public rejoicings" in New York City and in London on September 1, 1858.  In New York, businesses were closed and the celebrations included the firing of 100 guns in City Hall Park, fireworks from City Hall, the "burning of tar barrels" in the Battery, and a torchlight parade up Broadway, the buildings of which would be "illuminated."  (The term referred to elaborate Victorian decorations, like bunting.)  James Thompson was determined not to be outdone.  The Common Council's Detailed Report of the Proceedings included the various decorations.  It said:

The whole front of No. 359 Broadway, the lower part of which is used as a dining saloon and the upper stories as a photographic gallery, was decorated with a splendid transparency fifty-by twenty-five feet.  It bore on the top the words "Science, Labor and Art--Union Cable."

On the right was a portrait of [Cyrus] Field, in the centre one of [Benjamin] Franklin, and on the left one of [Samuel] Morse.  Beneath were two female figures, representing America and England joining hands, while to the right of these, and below, was a steamship, with the emblems of mechanism and science; and to the left, was a sailor from the Niagara.  Under this was a bridge joining two countries, and beneath this again was a figure of Neptune chained, implying that his power was at an end.  To the right was the letter B, and to the left the letter V, both surrounded by electric stars.  The whole design was well conceived and beautifully executed.  It attracted a great deal of attention.

The 1859 Carroll's New York City Directory listed Thompson & Son a "saloon suitable for ladies."  That year marked the end of Mathew Brady's occupancy of the upper floors.  A notice in Southern Trade in May 1860 announced that G. L. & J. B. Kelty were moving to 359 Broadway, "Where they will continue the business of importing curtain materials, furniture coverings, and manufacturing window shades."

Commercial Register, 1861 (copyright expired)

Like Thompson & Son, G. L. & J. B. Kelty took advantage of the holidays to market gifts.  In an article on Christmas gifts on December 12, 1865, The New York Times reported that the shop "offer charming styles of Nottingham, Swiss tamboured, Swiss application, lace curtains; gilt, white and colored Holland window shades, and piano and table covers."

Thompson & Son was no longer listed at 359 Broadway after 1866.  By 1880, the building was occupied by various dry goods businesses, including Schultz & Co., W. T. Moore & Co., Grimshaw Brothers, and umbrella dealers Alvah Ball & Co.   The firms were heavily damaged by what The Evening Post described as a "destructive fire" on December 24, 1881.  The loss was estimated at $250,000, or about $7.38 million in 2023.  It was possibly at this time that the rooftop iron decoration was lost.

The building was sold in September 1886 to Dr. L. C. Warner, a founder of the underwear manufacturing firm Warner Brothers.  A catalog boasted that Warner Brothers, which had a branch in Chicago, was the largest corset maker "in the entire world."  The actual factory was in Bridgeport, Connecticut where it employed 1,200 workers.

Wearing Apparel, 1887 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in October 1888 read succinctly, "Dr. Warner's Camel's Hair health Underwear for men, women and children.  Unequaled for Health, Comfort and Durability."

By 1890 Warner Brothers leased space in the building to Scheuer & Bro., makers of "straps and belts."  Among the items it offered were, "handy straps," shoulder straps, shawl straps, tourist straps, purses, and ladies' belts.

Around 1892, Fordham Stone Renovating Co. leased one of the offices on an upper floor.  The firm cleaned, painted and repaired stone and brick facades.  On July 9, 1899 the Record & Guide reported that the firm was "finishing the facade of the Broadway Central Hotel which they have renovated in a very interesting and successful manner."  Fordham Stone Renovating Co.'s offices remained at 359 Broadway at least through 1896.

The last years of the 19th century saw Warner leasing space to Weinman & Co., makers of ladies' and children's cloaks and suits; and an office to T. E. Ward & Co., grain and cotton brokers.  It was one of three T. E. Ward & Co. branches in the city.

The vast array of items made and sold by Warner Bros. in 1899 included, "dress pads, dress shields, dress stays, hose supporters, children's waists, notions, corset bindings, bustles, abdominal corsets, nursing corsets."  The firm, of course, adapted to changing times, and by 1922 was manufacturing Unionettes and Waist Union Suits--a modern version of the long underwear popular in the Civil War period.

The Corset and Underwear Review, February 1922, (copyright expired)

By the early 1920s, the a branch office of the Royal Typewriter Company occupied space in the building.  Warner Brothers left in the Depression Era.  Among the tenants in 1932 were the Mayflower Novelty Mfg. Co., makers of bedspreads and draperies; and Stanley Co., Inc., which dealt in "camping outfits, filter cloths and canvas goods."

In 1941 a vintage storefront survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1972 textile importer Maurice Russo purchased 359 Broadway and six years later moved his business in.  As the business grew, he acquired 353 Broadway around 1982.  Russo died in 1988, leaving the properties and operation of the firm to his sons, who purchased a third building, in between the others.  The Russo sons' plan was to demolish the properties and erect a 160,000-square-foot, "15-to-30 story" structure, according to Albert Russo.

But the Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in and held hearings in December 1989 about designating 359 Broadway an individual New York City landmark.  The Russo brothers waged war.  Albert traveled to the Library of Congress where he found "indisputable proof that Abraham Lincoln did not have his famous picture taken at 359 Broadway," he told Newsday.  Historians countered with contemporary documentation proving that he did.  At the hearing, Albert Russo argued, "It is Brady's work that is his legacy.  Not an old textile building."

In the end, the landmark status was upheld in the courts and 359 Broadway, remarkable for its architecture as much as its historic importance, was saved.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. The building that housed Brady's Washington DC studio is still standing - the skylight window is still visible on the top floor

    1. The pyramidal skylight (about 15 feet square and 6 feet at the apex) for Brady's studio on the top floor of 359 Broadway was extant when I last viewed it about 15 years ago; hopefully, it remains. I lived across Broadway.

  2. At least into the early 1980s, you could still see the painted sign "Brady's Gallery" in flowery 19th-century lettering at the corner top of the then-exposed southern side of the building (the 1941 pic is a bit too washed out to show it). Then, probably thanks to the Russos, the sign was neatly -- and completely -- painted over, likely in an effort to help discourage landmarking.

  3. Such a beautiful structure! Many thanks for your every post.