The history of Broadway is a diverse one. In our neighborhood, this famous thoroughfare has seen upscale townhouses be replaced by store-and-loft buildings, many of which have since been converted to apartment buildings.
For a long period of time, clothing manufacturing was prevalent here. And where there was clothing manufacturing there were always sewing machines. That leads us to today’s feature on the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building, which previously occupied the lot at the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street. The building, designed by Griffith Thomas, was everything you could ask for in one that fronted bustling Union Square: ornate, tall (for its time), and capped with an eye-catching cupola and “DOMESTIC” sign at the rooftop.
At the time of its 1873 construction, it was hailed as an early skyscraper, the tallest cast-iron building yet built. It’s hard to imagine a seven-story building as a skyscraper nowadays, but in the late 19th century it certainly was. The Domestic Sewing Machine Company showcased its sewing machines on the first floor, which you can see in the print above. Its corporate headquarters were on the upper floors.
According to The American Skyscraper: 1850-1940, “The Domestic’s first floor was wrapped in glass – large windows allowed for natural light to penetrate deeply into the showrooms. The company’s street floor displayed the various sewing machine types, paper dress patterns, and models sporting the latest fashions – all garments of course capable of manufacture by a Domestic machine.” (pg. 52)
Here is a beautiful print giving us a glimpse of the Union Square area in the 1870s. It’s a shame the building did not survive, as it was demolished in 1927 for the building we see today. With the Ladies’ Mile district beginning on the north side of the park, the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building would have been a striking gateway to Broadway south of 14th Street.
Here is the same location as it exists today. Comparing this with the first image, you’ll notice that the Morton House on the east side of Broadway was also subsequently replaced.
Learn more about the fascinating history of the Domestic Sewing Machine Company Building through this link on Google Books.
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