Lord & Taylor Building

424 FIFTH AVENUE

Architect: Starrett & Van Vleck

Developer: Lord & Taylor

Erected: 1914

Lord & Taylor Building

Lord & Taylor Building at 424 Fifth Avenue (Wall  Street Journal)

By Carter B. Horsley

This 11-story commercial building at 424 Fifth Avenue on the northwest corner at 38th Street was erected in 1914 as the flagship of Lord & Taylor and was designed by Starrett & Van Vleeck.


In 2020, the building was acquired by Amazon, which will use it as its New York headquarters.


With its large cornice, brown-brick facade with a two-story limestone base and a two-story limestone top with several thin stringcourses and light-colored spandrels between the fourth and fifth floors, the building is one of the handsomest on the avenue.


In his July 27, 2003 "Streetscape" column in The New York Times, Christoper Gray noted that  "Samuel Lord and George Taylor opened their first store on the Lower  East Side, but they were long out of the picture by 1912...

 

"In 1913, the store filed plans for one of the most elegant large stores ever built in New York, more suave than Macy's and more inventive than Saks. Over a limestone base, the architects Starrett & Van Vleck put an Italian Renaissance-style facade of gray faced brick, topped by a giant colonnade of marble and a copper cornice. Delicate 'L&T' relief panels flank the entrance, and Roman-type screens with delicate cresting marked the show windows....

 

"The main floor was decorated as carefully as the smaller shops popping up on Fifth Avenue, with a ceiling of low arches, rich buff travertine columns and the floor in travertine bordered with black Numidian marble veined with gold. On the fourth floor, the store had an Adam-style salon with a great stage and spotlights 'for trying out theatrical effects of handsome costumes,' The Times said, and, on the seventh floor, a concert hall with a pipe organ.

 

"Apparently, the 10th floor had no merchandise whatsoever, only a great dining complex for 500: the oval Wedgewood Room, with Adam-style decoration and a glass dome, a Chinese-style Mandarin Room, and the Loggia, in the red and gold of an Italian villa, and great French windows that could be opened up to make the room like a balcony in the summer. The 11th floor was largely devoted to the employees, with an open-air promenade, a solarium, a gym and a medical facility.

 

"The main-floor show windows were not dressed in place but were built in pairs set on tracks: a new window was prepared in the basement, and switched with the old in a matter of minutes. Even the main doorway on Fifth Avenue had a platform in the basement, raised to form a display when the store was closed.

  

"The ground-floor store windows figured in a dispute with the Fifth Avenue Association in 1938. In a November of unseasonably warm temperatures, Dorothy Shaver, an executive who was later president of Lord & Taylor from 1945 to 1959, conceived the idea of staging a continuous blizzard in the windows (created with cornflakes) with no merchandise, only signs admonishing 'It's coming! Sooner or later!' According to The Times, winter clothing sales increased 50 percent even though the temperature was in the 70's.

 

"But almost immediately the Fifth Avenue Association protested to Walter Hoving, president of Lord & Taylor [and later the head of Tiffany's], that the store had violated a ban on motion in Fifth Avenue windows intended to keep out cheap trinket shops. Lord & Taylor took the windows down with some grumbling, but the ban was soon lifted and visiting Lord & Taylor's delightful Christmas windows is still a standard ritual for many New Yorkers.

 

"Now many of the same stores that moved up to Murray Hill with Lord & Taylor - Vantine, Bonwit Teller, McCreery, Altman, Franklin Simon - are names unknown to most New Yorkers, tossed into the dustbin of New York's retail history. When the giant B. Altman closed on 34th and Fifth in 1989, it left Lord & Taylor on a cliff of retail geography, like a large beachfront house where erosion now approaches the front porch.

 

"A trip through the store now reveals little of the 1914 building. The original light fixtures are in place, but the walnut and ebony display cases are gone, and only patches of the Numidian marble floor have survived successive remodelings.

 

"The original travertine ceilings, arches and columns have survived, but the columns are covered with strips of mirror, and the ceilings and arches are obscured by many coats of paint. The elaborate 10th-floor dining rooms, the employees' solarium, the spotlighted stage, the concert hall and the ground-floor dual show-window are but a memory, if that. Balconies have been removed from the exterior, and the rich ground-floor limestone is hidden by paint....

 

 Lord & Taylor on Broadway

 

The building was designated a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on October 30, 2007.....In 2019, the building was mostly sold to workspace company WeWork, and Lord & Taylor closed its department store inside the building. In March 2020, Amazon acquired the building from WeWork.

 

In 1826, English immigrant Samuel Lord founded the original Lord & Taylor store at 47 Catherine Street in what is now Two Bridges in Lower Manhattan. His wife's cousin George Washington Taylor, and later his brother-in-law James S. Taylor, would join the enterprise afterward.....The original Lord & Taylor would move several times,...opening new flagship stores at Broadway and Grand Street within SoHo in 1859,...and then at Broadway and 20th Street in the "Ladies' Mile" area in 1870....After a period of economic decline and growth, the company would open stores along Fifth Avenue in 1903 and 1906, becoming one of the avenue's first retailers....

 

Dorothy Shaver became a full-time employee at Lord & Taylor in 1924, eventually becoming its president in 1945....Under her tenure, the Lord & Taylor Building was expanded to include several specialty and clothing departments, and Lord & Taylor became the first store to include such divisions....The fourth floor was rehabilitated to accommodate an older women's clothing department, and reopened in March 1938....That September, the renovated third floor opened to the public with divisions for dresses, millinery, and suits and coats. The third floor used colored furniture to contrast with gray walls; several mirrors for customers to quickly preview garments; and narrow entrances that drew customers' attention to the rear sections of the department, rather than to the items near the entrances. According to The New York Times, these additions were "deliberately violating several cardinal principles of store layout"....The redesign was planned by Raymond Loewy....

 

The third-floor balustrade on the store's facade may have been removed by 1967....In January 1976, it was announced that five of the building's floors, including the main floor, would be remodeled with mirrored glass on the columns and walls, as well as travertine sales counters....The renovation was completed that September, at which point Lord & Taylor CEO Joseph E. Brooks announced that the branches would receive similar renovations....Starting in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis, the store played The Star-Spangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem, each morning before opening. The tradition, which continued until the store's closure in 2019, was implemented because Lord & Taylor's chairman at the time wanted to send the message that the U.S. was 'the greatest country in the world'....Lord & Taylor's parent company signed a lease for the Dreicer Building, the 'holdout' building at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, in 1986. The store was later expanded into the Dreicer Building....

 

In 2006, Lord & Taylor was sold to Federated Department Stores (now Macy's, Inc.).....

 

In April 2017 plans to add a large condo building above the store were discussed,...though they never materialized. That October, it was reported that the company planned to sell the Fifth Avenue store and headquarters building to WeWork for a reported $850 million....WeWork was to occupy three quarters of the building, leaving two to three floors for Lord & Taylor's retail space....The sale was officially finalized in February 2019....As part of the final transaction WeWork converted $125 million of the purchase price into equity, forming a joint venture for the building ownership....

 

In June 2018, Lord & Taylor announced that it would be leaving the Fifth Avenue location entirely. The store closed January 3, 2019....In June 2019, Amazon.com expressed interest in renting out almost the entire building from WeWork....The deal closed in February 2020, with Amazon purchasing the building for $978 million....

 

There were no retail areas on the 10th floor, which instead contained a food court with restaurants that could collectively seat 500 people....The dining areas were named after their theming: the Adam style Wedgewood Room, the Chinese-themed Mandarin Room, and the Italian villa-themed Loggia....Other customer amenities included a concert hall within the seventh-floor music department; and restrooms, telephones, and travel counters on the fifth floor.....There was also a "manicure parlor for men" as well as a mechanical horse ride....

 

Employee amenities were also built into the design of the building: there was a gym, solarium, and dental and medical departments on the 11th floor,...while other floors contained dining rooms and a men's smoking area....

 


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