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Wanamaker’s, A Shoppers Paradise

In a recent application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to make some changes to the building at 770 Broadway (8th/9th Streets), there is a great picture of this impressive building being constructed; the photos from this application are now part of our historic image archive. This photo really showcases the construction technology of a steel structure accompanied by traditional terracotta and stone cladding. Located in the NoHo Historic District, this full block building was built in the Renaissance Revival style and was originally home to the department store, Wanamaker’s and its warehouse when this stretch of Broadway was a bustling commercial center at the beginning of the 20th century.

Wanamaker Building under construction as seen in the landmarks application for 770 Broadway

Wanamaker’s Department Store was founded by John Wanamaker (1838-1922) following the Civil War in Philadelphia. In 1896 the store expanded to New York. The first location of Wanamaker’s was across East 9th Street from what would be 770 Broadway in the old A.T. Stewart cast-iron store (demolished).  Quickly Wanamakers became one of the leading department stores in New York City.

John Wanamaker’s in the old A.T. Stewart Store at West 9th Street and Broadway. Photo by Bernice Abbot, 1936, NYPL

In 1903 Wanamaker sought to expand his enterprise to the neighboring block to the south and hired the prominent Chicago-based architecture firm of D.H. Burnham & Co. to design his new building as an annex to the original. D.H. Burnham & Co. was originally Burnham & Root, a partnership between Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912) and John Root formed in 1873. The association lasted until Root’s death in 1891 after which the name became D. H. Burnham & Co. The firm was famous for its early skyscraper designs and was spurred to national prominence in 1890 when it was selected as the consulting architect for the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

The full block building at 770 Broadway was built in two stages in 1903-07 and 1924-25. There was an existing building at the northeast corner of Broadway and East 8th Street known as the “Jones Building” which was under lease with the Broadway Trust Company. So the first part of the plan was executed initially around the Jones building and then later finished in 1924 when the store was able to demolish the “Jones Building” and complete the Burnham plan. This was only after having to file a case with the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which Wanamaker’s did successfully. The basis for the objection by the city was that the addition as designed back in 1903 did not meet the city’s 1916 Zoning Law’s setback requirement.

770 Broadway today

Clad mostly in terra cotta, this grand shopping palace contained thirty-two acres of retail space, an auditorium with 1,300 seats and a large restaurant to round out the shopping experience. Bridges were built between the Wanamaker buildings which you can see at the left in the 1936 picture above. In 1945, the auditorium was converted into one of the city’s first television studios.

Wanamakers closed in 1955 and the cast iron building to the north was lost to a fire shortly thereafter. Today 770 Broadway has retail space in its first two floors and offices above.

If you want to see more images in our historic image archive, click here.  To see this and other images taken from landmarks applications, click here.

18 responses to “Wanamaker’s, A Shoppers Paradise

  1. I get melancholy when I see pictures and history of what was. It all reminds me of my mother, born and raised in the city. Art students league wth Jackson pollack. I still have so many questions, I was also born in New York and love it. I’m 75 years old but still like to go to our old apts, old neighborhoods. Memories😔


  2. I am 74 and grew up in Greenwich Village with my mother who was friends Pollack, Klein and that group. Perhaps our mothers knew each other. Anyway I was just remembering going to Wanamakers every Christmas for my treat of riding the Christmas Train around the ceiling of the main floor. I thought it was great fun.

  3. As a youngster in the 40s growing up in Glendale my Mom and or Dad would take us often to Wanamakers a great store? Remember with fondness the DuMont TV studio.

  4. I live in Central N.J. and just picked up a John Wanamaker table from a estate. I’m glad I found this page because I was intrigued by the Dept Store and its history.

  5. My Dad worked in the rug department specializing in oriental rugs.. Went every holiday and also enjoyed Dumont productions.

  6. It was Daniel Burnham, I think, whose famous exhortation was “Make no little plans.

    ThIs month’s sudden closing of the second of our two Manhattan Kmarts, located here at the old Wanamaker building since ’93, was marked by a few farewell articles. But it was especially surprising that even ‘New York’ magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz forgot to mention the noble background of this structure in the history of both architecture and retailing.

    And an error in the caption for the 1936 photo above might have been carried over from the NYPL collection – but in any case it does misspell both first and last names of the eminent photographer BerEnice AbbotT. I hope that someone can now set that right!

  7. What came into the space when Wanamaker’s closed….I know American Express was there and Traffic court was on one of the upper floors…But what was in the space that Kmart filled ?

    1. I remember going to one downtown not far from WTC in the early 80s. We would go to grab lunch a quick salad at a little luncheonette inside the store. I also remember their makeup counter as I just about 19 years old working my first job spending all my money on clothes and makeup lol

      1. You are right. I believe it was on Broadway. I remember shopping there when I worked in Two WTC between ‘75 and ‘85.

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