Wanamaker’s, A Shoppers Paradise

In a recent application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to make some changes to the building at 770 Broadway (8th/9th Streets), there is a great picture of this impressive building being constructed; the photos from this application are now part of our historic image archive. This photo really showcases the construction technology of a steel structure accompanied by traditional terracotta and stone cladding. Located in the NoHo Historic District, this full block building was built in the Renaissance Revival style and was originally home to the department store, Wanamaker’s and its warehouse when this stretch of Broadway was a bustling commercial center at the beginning of the 20th century.

Wanamaker Building under construction as seen in the landmarks application for 770 Broadway

Wanamaker’s Department Store was founded by John Wanamaker (1838-1922) following the Civil War in Philadelphia. In 1896 the store expanded to New York. The first location of Wanamaker’s was across East 9th Street from what would be 770 Broadway in the old A.T. Stewart cast-iron store (demolished).  Quickly Wanamakers became one of the leading department stores in New York City.

John Wanamaker’s in the old A.T. Stewart Store at West 9th Street and Broadway. Photo by Bernice Abbot, 1936, NYPL

In 1903 Wanamaker sought to expand his enterprise to the neighboring block to the south and hired the prominent Chicago-based architecture firm of D.H. Burnham & Co. to design his new building as an annex to the original. D.H. Burnham & Co. was originally Burnham & Root, a partnership between Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912) and John Root formed in 1873. The association lasted until Root’s death in 1891 after which the name became D. H. Burnham & Co. The firm was famous for its early skyscraper designs and was spurred to national prominence in 1890 when it was selected as the consulting architect for the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

The full block building at 770 Broadway was built in two stages in 1903-07 and 1924-25. There was an existing building at the northeast corner of Broadway and East 8th Street known as the “Jones Building” which was under lease with the Broadway Trust Company. So the first part of the plan was executed initially around the Jones building and then later finished in 1924 when the store was able to demolish the “Jones Building” and complete the Burnham plan. This was only after having to file a case with the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which Wanamaker’s did successfully. The basis for the objection by the city was that the addition as designed back in 1903 did not meet the city’s 1916 Zoning Law’s setback requirement.

770 Broadway today

Clad mostly in terra cotta, this grand shopping palace contained thirty-two acres of retail space, an auditorium with 1,300 seats and a large restaurant to round out the shopping experience. Bridges were built between the Wanamaker buildings which you can see at the left in the 1936 picture above. In 1945, the auditorium was converted into one of the city’s first television studios.

Wanamakers closed in 1955 and the cast iron building to the north was lost to a fire shortly thereafter. Today 770 Broadway has retail space in its first two floors and offices above.

If you want to see more images in our historic image archive, click here.  To see this and other images taken from landmarks applications, click here.

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