•  Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace N.H.S.

    Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

    National Historic Site New York

Ladies Mile

Arnold Constable Building, built 1868

The Arnold Constable Building, built in 1868, shown circa 1895

During the 1870s, the character of the neighborhood where Theodore Roosevelt grew up changed from residential to commercial. A stretch of Broadway developed known as "Ladies Mile," just half a block west of the Roosevelt Family's brownstone at No. 28 East 20th Street. The formerly unbroken rows of identical brownstone townhouses were retrofitted with large glass windows for small businesses. Houses came down and new buildings went up. Soon large department stores moved into newly-constructed large and ornate buildings to woo the attention of New York shoppers. Ladies Mile was born.
Ladies Mile, which stretched along Broadway from 9th to 23rd Street, became a fashionable place for luxury shopping. It served customers of the "carriage trade," so dubbed because the upper class ladies arrived by horse-drawn carriages. By contrast, "Fashion Row" to the west, along Sixth Avenue, served middle-class commuters of the "transit trade" who arrived by public transport. A steam-powered elevated train line, the "El," which ran along Sixth Avenue, had opened in 1878 with stops at 14th, 18th, and 23rd Streets.
The first merchant to relocate a businesses uptown to Ladies Mile was Arnold Constable (881-887 Broadway). This building, designed by Griffith Thomas, went up in 1868 with a Broadway facade made of marble. The 5th Avenue facade was made of cast iron that imitated its Broadway facade. The cast iron Lord & Taylor building (901 Broadway) soon followed in 1870 one block up Broadway. Cast iron was a cheap and efficient building material, prized for its architectural possibilities: it could be easily poured into molds and made into any shape with diverse decoration; it could be painted to imitate more expensive carved stone; it could be produced in a factory and quickly assembled onsite with less labor; it was strong enough under compression that slender columns could support the weight or "load" of the upper floors of a building, having the advantage of being comparatively more lightweight than thick masonry walls. Thus, a store owner could create embellished facades, large open spaces, install large glass display windows, and brighten the interiors with natural light.
A number of fine shopping outlets joined Ladies Mile within the decade. Across from Arnold Constable at the intersection of Broadway and 19th Street, W. & J. Sloane (888 Broadway) was selling carpets, rugs, curtains, upholstery fabric, and furniture, and Gorham Manufacturing Company (889-891 Broadway) was selling silverware. The W. & J. Sloane building, which was built in 1882, is also made of cast iron in addition to red brick with terracotta and stone trim, while the Gorham building, which was built two years later in 1884, is made of pink brick with terracotta and light gray sandstone trim. Brick and terracotta gained widespread popularity beginning in the 1870s. They were cheap, lightweight, fireproof, easily molded into decorations, and made into colors that matched stone.
The department stores on Ladies Mile grew and extended into large complexes. By the early 1900s, they moved further uptown along Broadway from the area around Union Square at 14th Street to Herald Square at 34th Street and Times Square at 42nd Street. Today much of the fabulous architecture remains.

 
Lord & Taylor Building, built 1870
The Lord & Taylor Building, built in 1870, shown circa 1911

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