The inaugural post for this series described mid-1800’s Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets as a stomping ground for the well to do, home to luxury stores such as Lord and Taylor and Tiffany’s. In its day, one of the most well-known stores along this stretch was the opulent Haughwout Emporium at 488 Broadway at the southeast corner of Broome Street.
Built in 1857, the Haughwout Building was built by Walter Langdon Jr., grandson of John Jacob Astor, who purchased the land in 1802. Modeled on a 16th-century Venetian library, it is one of the finest examples of cast iron architecture in New York City and was originally the home of the Haughwout Emporium, owned by Eder V. Haughwout, manufacturer and purveyor of fine china, cut glass, silverware and chandelier. His business attracted many high profile clients, including Mary Todd Lincoln, who had her official White House china made there. Other customers included the Czar of Russia and the Imam of Muscat.
The building’s other claim to fame is that Elisha Graves Otis designed and installed his first commercial hydraulic elevator in the building (for a whopping $300!). The elevator moved at 40 feet per minute and had an automatic safety brake to prevent it from free falling. Visitors would come to see the elevator and then stay to shop for china and silver. A clever marketing device indeed!
Langdon’s estate eventually sold the building in 1895 for $375,000 and as time went on the neighborhood shifted away from retail toward industry with tenants such as The Vulcanized Rubber Co. of New York and The Broadway Manufacturers Supply Co. The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1965, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, despite the strong opposition of Robert Moses, who planned to raze the building to make room for an expressway across the length of Broome Street. In recent years, the building (and the neighborhood), having come full circle, is once again outfitted for retail on the ground floor, with residential lofts on the upper floors.
The building recently changed hands once again, at a purchase price of $145 million. The buyer, Ponte Gadea, is the real estate investment company controlled by Amancio Ortega, who also owns Inditex, the parent company of Zara, according to the New York Post. The purchase price includes an updated elevator that thankfully moves much faster than 40 feet per minute!
Editor’s Note: The Look Back series is on hiatus during the summer. We hope you enjoyed this previous article from the series.
Yukie Ohta is founder of The SoHo Memory Project