When Lord & Taylor Ruled Lower East Side Fashion [HISTORY]

Posted on: December 28th, 2018 at 5:00 am by

Lord & Taylor will close its landmarked Fifth Avenue building in a few short weeks after more than a century in business. WeWork acquired the historic property in a blockbuster $850 million deal last year.

The department store had originally planned to take space in the “bottom floors” while the co-working company reigned above. But that didn’t pan out.

Instead, the flagship is now in its final days. So, given the imminent demise, it’s appropriate to revisit the connection of Lord & Taylor to the Lower East Side.

These days, we don’t typically think of Catherine Street as a hub of fashion and haberdashery. Running north-south from Division to Cherry, this offshoot is often considered part of the Two Bridges neighborhood, but it’s really just Chinatown. Back in the day, though, this area was known as one of the major shopping districts in Manhattan. And it boasted two particular businesses with humble beginnings that would eventually become international success stories in the game.

First let’s hone in on an historic description of the landscape circa 1820s, as excerpted from Valentine’s Manual of Old New York:

When Catherine Street was one of the important business streets of the city the fashionable retail shops were located there, and lady shoppers wended their way thither to see the styles and make their purchases; but the grand dames of those early days had only a few places to go to and not a great deal to attract them. The feminine desire for shopping, which is the unfailing source of such lucrative business in our progressive age, was then in its infancy and shopping was not the fine art it is today.

Catherine and Cherry Streets, circa 2014

We’ve already touched upon the history of Brooks Brothers, which occupied the corner of Catherine and Cherry for decades. The upscale clothier spawned on April 7, 1818 as “H. & D. H. Brooks & Co.” and quartered itself at 116-118 Cherry.

Eight years later, Lord & Taylor put down roots just two blocks north at 47 Catherine. Founded by 23-year-old Samuel Lord and his wife’s cousin George Washington Taylor in 1826, the eponymous business is considered the “oldest upscale, specialty-retail department store chain in the United States.” They specialized, as now, in “fashionable dry goods” that catered to women. The original location was inside a three-story dwelling, and doubled in size within a year of its opening. The growth continued, and the company annexed 49 Catherine six years later.

47 Catherine Street

Growth and good fortune were on their side. Lord & Taylor continued to expand, first with a relocation to 61-63 Catherine in 1838 where it would remain for fifteen years. Then the formidable company built itself a new headquarters at 255 Grand Street (southeast corner of Chrystie). According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, this Lower East Side building had “a domed rotunda and large windows which allowed natural light to flood the interior.”

Not too long after, Lord spotted an empty parcel at 461-467 Broadway, and began construction of its flagship palatial digs. The five-story “marble emporium” debuted on August 29, 1859, and became the “first of the major retailers to move to Broadway after the opening of A. T. Stewart’s department store at Broadway and Chambers Street.”

Fifty-five years later saw the move to the current Fifth Avenue flagship, designed by Starrett & Van Vleck, and erected in 1914.

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