Broadway and 14th Street, Then & Now

Broadway and 14th Street, Then & Now
MNY217734 - 1880

1880 photograph from the Museum of the City of New York.

The history of Broadway is a diverse one. In our neighborhood, this famous thoroughfare has seen upscale townhouses be replaced by store-and-loft buildings, many of which have since been converted to apartment buildings.

For a long period of time, clothing manufacturing was prevalent here. And where there was clothing manufacturing there were always sewing machines. That leads us to today’s feature on the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building, which previously occupied the lot at the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street. The building, designed by Griffith Thomas, was everything you could ask for in one that fronted bustling Union Square: ornate, tall (for its time), and capped with an eye-catching cupola and “DOMESTIC” sign at the rooftop.

MNY72927 - 1870

1870 print from the Museum of the City of New York.

At the time of its 1873 construction, it was hailed as an early skyscraper, the tallest cast-iron building yet built. It’s hard to imagine a seven-story building as a skyscraper nowadays, but in the late 19th century it certainly was. The Domestic Sewing Machine Company showcased its sewing machines on the first floor, which you can see in the print above. Its corporate headquarters were on the upper floors.

According to The American Skyscraper: 1850-1940, “The Domestic’s first floor was wrapped in glass – large windows allowed for natural light to penetrate deeply into the showrooms. The company’s street floor displayed the various sewing machine types, paper dress patterns, and models sporting the latest fashions – all garments of course capable of manufacture by a Domestic machine.” (pg. 52)

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1872 print from the New York Public Library.

Here is a beautiful print giving us a glimpse of the Union Square area in the 1870s. It’s a shame the building did not survive, as it was demolished in 1927 for the building we see today. With the Ladies’ Mile district beginning on the north side of the park, the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building would have been a striking gateway to Broadway south of 14th Street.

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Google Street View.

Here is the same location as it exists today. Comparing this with the first image, you’ll notice that the Morton House on the east side of Broadway was also subsequently replaced.

Learn more about the fascinating history of the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building through this link on Google Books.

Love our “Then & Now” series? Find lots more here.

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Amanda
About

Amanda was GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research from January 2012 to July 2015.

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2 comments on “Broadway and 14th Street, Then & Now
  1. Amanda tim mcd says:

    842 Broadway (East side of block between 13th and 14th) – now home of the behemoth Regal movie joint – has what I think is a far more interesting history. When I was in high school (Stuyvesant, then on E. 15th St., end of 1970s) me and a handful of friends would visit the building virtually every day while walking home from school. On the first and second floors were the offices of the Village Voice newspaper, where my dad worked. We’d all roll in, see what extra records or books or other press swag was laying around, and generally enjoy the buzz of a newsroom. Then, we’d all tramp up to the sixth floor of the building. Up there was the factory of S. Zimmerman & Sons, which made bias bindings, or hat bands. Samuel Zimmerman was the grandfather of Robert and Andy Zimmerman, who lived in the same building as me. We thought nothing of it that our parents worked in the same building yet did such wildly different things. There, we’d run among the sewing machines, have sword fights with cardboard fabric rolls, destroy the bubble paper and try on all the funny hat samples. The background noise was invariably Samuel and his son William (Robert and Andy’s dad) moaning that JFK had gone hatless at his inauguration, ushering OUT the era of men wearing hats, and killing their business.

    Probably no one besides me and the Zimmermans (and our friends Adam and Robbie and John who often were there too) gives a flying f— about this. But it is one more example of how the old Village is dead and gone. And seeing the blog post about 14th and Broadway made me think of it.

  2. Amanda Virginia M Flesher says:

    I became interested in the Domestic sewing machine company, as I own a Iron and oak sewing machine stand with two drawers, plus a little drawer in the center. We bought it in the 1980’s, and I use it for my more modern portable sewing machine.
    Ì have the original manual also. The front and back is worn, but the manual is complete. A picture of the building at 14th and Broadway is on the cover, plus there is a picture of the factory. I have enjoyed finding out the history of my treasure.

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