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ICYMI: Magic in the Walls of 502 Broadway

SoHo Broadway History: Houdini’s origins can be traced to our district

Did you know that what we call SoHo today, was once New York’s Garment District in the 1880s? During this time, H. Richter’s Sons necktie factory resided at 502 Broadway. This is where a young Ehrich Weiss was employed for nearly three years as an assistant lining cutter. Later on in his life, he would change his name to Harry Houdini, and become a world-renowned escape artist, illusionist, and magician. 

In fact, 502-504 Broadway, an 1868 cast-iron palace between Broome and Spring Streets, was the site of his first ever job. A story goes that Weiss supposedly secured the job at Richter’s Sons after spotting a long line of applicants against a ‘Help Wanted’ sign. He got to the front of the line and removed the sign and announced in an officious voice that the position had been filled. When the applicants dispersed and his competition cleared out, he went in and landed the job for himself. 

Whether true or not, 502 Broadway played an important part in the story of Houdini’s life. While working in the factory, Ehrich would spend much of his time reading the memoirs of Robert Houdin, famed French illusionist, which inspired him to choose the path in his life that ultimately led to his fame. One may wonder if a teenaged Houdini bound his wrists in ties and worked out how to slip out of them. This is also where he met fellow Richter’s employee, Jacob Hyman, who he would later partner with to create a magic act. In fact, it was Hyman who suggested to Weiss that if one were to add an ‘i’ to the last name of Houdin, it would mean “like-Houdin” in French. Thus, the name Houdini was born. 

502-504 Broadway has a long history — from being home to fancy goods merchants, to devastatingly destructive fires to where famous magicians had their humble beginnings. Today, the stunning cast-iron building is home to Bloomingdale’s — who knows if the next Houdini is currently working there!

502-504 Broadway today

Editor’s Note:  The Look Back series is on hiatus during this month. We hope you enjoyed this previous article from the series.

Take a ‘Look Back’ at previous articles in this series

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