The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for January 6th, 2011

of antique workmanship

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– photo from “King’s views of New York City, A.D.1903” a public domain ebook courtesy Google Books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perusing the catalogs of historic photos which I routinely harvest from antiquarian sources such as the “google books” service over the holidays, I came across this image of the Stern Brothers store on 23rd street between 5th and 6th avenues in a 1903 photo survey of New York. For one reason or another, I’ve spent a lot of time marching up and down 23rd street and have always been curious about the structure (which currently houses a largish “Home Depot”).

from wikipedia

Stern Brothers was founded in 1867 by Issac, Louis and Benjamin Stern, sons of German Jewish immigrants. In 1867 they began selling dry goods in Buffalo, New York. From these humble beginnings the Stern Brothers became an important merchandising family in New York City.

In 1868 they moved to New York City and opened a one room store at 367 Sixth Avenue. In 1877 the store was again relocated to larger quarters at 110 West 23rd. Street. Outgrowing the store at 110 West 23rd. Street, Stern Brothers erected a new structure at the same location which became the new flagship store in 1878. It was noted for its cast-iron facade at 32 to 36 West 23rd. Street & 23 to 35 West 22nd. Street.

The building was designed by Henry Fernbach. It was enlarged according to a design by W.M. Schickel in 1892. The enormous, six story building was executed in the Renaissance Revival style. W.M. Schinckel’s typically 19th. century addition tripled the dimensions of the original structure on the eastern portion of the site. The tall central section of this addition animates the long and delicately detailed facade. The company’s monogram is still located above the central arch. (This structure is still in use today. The first floor houses a Home Depot, while the upper floors are showrooms.) The entire Sterns family worked in this store, which carried both luxury goods and merchandise the working classes. It was an elegant store noted for its fashionable clothes. Ladies from all over the city came to Stern Brothers for their Paris fashions. This enterprise was distinguished by its elegant door men in top hats and the generous and friendly service of the Sterns themselves.

A “longer” version of the same subject – photo by Mitch Waxman

On Tuesday, on my way to a client’s office on 23rd street to pick up a job, I made it a point of trying to find a similar vantage point to the one in the historic photo- although the 1903 version is clearly shot from the elevated landing of a staircase, or perhaps, the first story window of some long gone structure.

What remains in Manahattan these days is corporatized, commercialized, bland, and privatized- who would blame these stalwart titans of economic might for shunning and denying the requests of some shabby man with a camera who is unprofitably seeking the past?

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 6, 2011 at 12:15 am

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