Today in 1818: Brooks Brothers Debuts on the Lower East Side [HISTORY]

Posted on: April 7th, 2014 at 10:01 am by
Photo via David Bellela

Photo via David Bellela

You’re now looking at an archival photograph looking eastward down Cherry Street sometime in the 1920s. The Manhattan Bridge overpass is clearly visible in the background. Closer to our vantage point (sign reading “RUGS”), however, was the original location of Brooks Brothers. That’s the northeast corner of Cherry and Catherine Streets.

The upscale clothier began its life on this day (April 7) in 1818 as “H. & D. H. Brooks & Co.” and quartered itself at 116-118 Cherry. Henry Sands Brooks founded the company “To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest body, to sell it at a fair profit, and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise.” Historians agree that Brooks introduced the “ready-to-wear suit” to American audiences, eventually becoming the brand of choice for U.S. Presidents (they’ve outfitted 39 of 44, including Lincoln). The patriarch died in 1833, at which point his three sons took over. They aptly renamed the endeavor in 1850 to what we know today.

Photo via David Bellela

Photo via David Bellela

Back in 1863, however, the store was targeted during the Civil War draft riots as a symbol of the wealthy. Below is the New York Times dispatch of the incident:

At a late hour on Tuesday night the mob, numbering 4,000 or 5,000, made an attack upon the clothing-store of Messrs. BROOKS BROTHERS, in Catharine-street, corner of Cherry. Sergeant FINNEY, of the Third Precinct, while in the discharge of his duty in endeavoring to protect the property of this establishment, was knocked down, beaten on the head and body with clubs, and afterward shot in the hand by a pistol by one of the rioters. He was subsequently conveyed to the Station-house, where his wounds were dressed. He is very severely injured, and no hopes are entertained of his recovery. Officer DANIEL FIELDS, of the same Precinct, was knocked down and brutally beaten about the head and face at the same time.

A man named JOHN MATZEL was shot and instantly killed. It is reported that he was one of the leaders of the mob, and that the ball which pierced his heart came from a revolver in the hands of one of the officers of the law. He was in the act of entering the clothing store at the time he met his death.

Plunder seems to have been the sole object with the marauders in their attack upon the store of the Messrs. BROOKS. The fine ready-made clothing therein was tempting. Fortunately, the Police and the employes of the establishment successfully repelled the invaders before much property had been stolen. Three or four persons, whose names could not be ascertained, lost their lives at this place, and many others were badly injured.

As noted by local historian David Bellela, mobs of opposition during the draft riots attacked sites associated with the war effort, the Republican party, and/or social privilege. Brooks Brothers was a site of violence because it was mainly a clothier for the wealthy class.

BrooksBrothersDraftRiots

Brooks Brothers was family-owned for more than a century. Not anymore. Today, the company is owned by Retail Brand Alliance, and there are over 200 outlets worldwide. As for the OG location – it’s now beneath the Knickerbocker Village housing complex.

catherine-and-cherry-2014

Recent Stories

Clayton’s Corner: At the Memorial for LES Documentarian, Toyo Tsuchiya [PHOTOS]

If, in the early ’80s, Toyo Tsuchiya’s ambition was to be remembered as a serious New York City documentary photographer, he could not have picked a more overlooked and neglected piece of landscape than the Forsyth and Rivington Street area, between Delancey and Houston. At the time, it was a drug- and crime-infested subdivision. As […]

175 Ludlow Street Sells to NJ Steel Supplier

Lately, real estate is trading rather briskly in the confines of Hell Square. At least four area buildings sold since last summer. Time to add another onto the heap. Word crossed our desk this week that 175 Ludlow Street, just south of Houston, likewise changed hands. Residents there received a notice from the new ownership […]

Health Department Shutters ‘The Skinny’ on Orchard Street

It’s lights out for The Skinny bar on Orchard Street. Nearly three months after pissing off (or, on) Hell Square with its Christmas “Jingle Hell’s” holiday stunt, the rowdy nightclub was subject to a city inspection yesterday. The Department of Health came down to 174 Orchard Street and ordered the establishment shut. The requisite yellow […]

First Rendering of the 14-Story Hotel Rising at Vacant Eldridge Street Lot

What the neighborhood doesn’t need is another large-scale hotel. But that’s precisely what’s happening at 79 Eldridge Street, where construction last week commenced on a new context-killing fourteen-story lodge. And now we have our first sight of what to expect from this long-vacant lot. It’s amazing how these illustrations completely gussy up neighborhoods to make […]

The Neon Lights of Sunshine Cinema Have Gone Dark

The Sunshine Cinema on East Houston is one step closer to its grave. While the brickwork of the building remains bathed in orange glow, the marquee lettering was not as lucky. As of this week, its token neon signage has gone dark. Shadows are now cast on the sidewalk below. Demolition is nigh. This latest action […]