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Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: 814 Broadway

Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.

814 Broadway is a masonry structure built in 1854. Five stories in height, it showcases four bays at the second floor, and three bays at the upper floors — all with segmentally arched windows. The building’s architectural features are striking, and include Corinthian columnettes at the second floor windows, and additional ornament and anthemions decorating the central upper floor windows. Behind it’s facade, however, 814 Broadway holds a vast and varied cultural history. This building has important connections to the Civil War, abolition, the first woman doctor in America, the establishment of the American Red Cross, a prominent umbrella manufacturer, one of the oldest literary clubs in the United States, and the underground/avant garde Downtown film and video scene. Much like other buildings in Village Preservation’s proposed historic district south of Union Square, we have to ask: why isn’t this landmarked?

814 Broadway, 2020.

Women’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR)

814 Broadway housed the Women’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR) during the Civil War. Elizabeth Blackwell, an ardent abolitionist and the first female physician in the United States, established the WCAR. Dr. Blackwell realized the Union Army needed a system for distributing supplies, and organized four thousand women into the organization. The WCAR grew into chapters around the county, and this body systematically collected and distributed life-saving supplies such as bandages, blankets, food, clothing, and medical supplies.

Elizabeth Blackwell. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Blackwell also partnered with several prominent male physicians in New York City to offer a one-month training course for 100 women who wanted to be nurses for the army. This was the first formal training for women nurses in the country. Once they completed their training, they were sent to Dorothea Dix for placement at a hospital.

United States Sanitary Commission Seal. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

By July 1861, the WCAR prompted the government to form a national version — the United States Sanitary Commission, which was the precursor to the American Red Cross. And it all started because Dr. Blackwell decided to mobilize the women of the country to help the Union.

From just May 1, 1861 to November 1, 1863, the WCAR donated nearly a half million items of clothing and nearly 300,000 items of bedding to the war effort, which was valued at nearly $600,000. The organization continued to raise money and relief items for the remainder of the war.

Republican Central Club

During the Civil War, 814 Broadway was also home to the Republican Central Club, an organization which advocated for not allowing the southern states to secede. The Club believed in fighting in the Civil War to save the Union and to end slavery.

Thomas J. Hall Music Publishers

This building was also the home of Thomas J. Hall music publishers. Hall was a founder in 1870 of the Lotos Club, one of the oldest literary clubs in the United States.

“Saturday evening at Lotos Club, 149 Fifth Avenue” by Robert Reed. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Notable members of the club have included Mark Twain, Brooke Astor, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Andrew Carnegie, Walter P. Chrysler, Mary Higgins Clark, George M. Cohan, Hume Cronyn, Mario Cuomo, Gilbert and Sullivan, Solomon R. Guggenheim, William Randolph Hearst, Angela Lansbury, Wynton Marsalis, Margaret Mead, Peter O’Toole, Bobby Short, Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, Susan Stroman, Jessica Tandy, Orson Welles, Tom Wolfe, Andrew Wyeth, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Hall was also a founder of the Arcadian club and served as a member of the New York City Board of Education ca. 1870.

Beer Brothers Fine Gold and Bronze Picture Frames

In the 1880s, Beer Brothers Fine Gold and Bronze Picture Frames was located at 814 Broadway. In its advertisements, the company claimed: “many of our frames are on the most important paintings in public and private galleries throughout the United States.” In addition to framing, Beer Brothers renovated paintings, bought and sold paintings, and held painting exhibitions. At the time of his death in 1914, The New York Times said that Samuel A. Beers was “widely known as a renovator of the old masters and had done considerable work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as for private collectors.”

Amasa Lyon & Company Umbrella Manufacturers

Amasa Lyon & Company Umbrella Manufacturers was yet another resident of 814 Broadway — located here around the turn of the last century.

Amasa Lyon & Company at 684 Broadway. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of Amasa Lyon, King’s Handbook of New York said: the company “may not be the largest or oldest manufacturers of umbrellas parasols and walking sticks in this country, but there is no house in this industry that stands so prominent for the general high grade of its productions. A Lyon umbrella is indicative of taste durability and reliability as to shape and color. The familiar trade mark of the upright majestic lion’s head with the assuring legend of “Sans Varier” and the bold autograph of Amasa Lyon has become known everywhere. No trademark in its line is regarded as so valuable in this trade and no lines of umbrellas and parasols are so widely known as those of Amasa Lyon & Co….Anyone who has the opportunity of going through these factories becomes amazed at the infinite variety of articles used in the making and ornamenting of umbrellas, parasols, and canes: woods, metals, precious stones, ivories, horns, etc. and silks laces and various fabrics requiring for their proper use exquisite taste and great skill. These are the only manufacturers who in their own shops produce every part of the umbrella excepting the fabrics and frames, and even these are made on special orders with furnished designs and under exclusive arrangements…The Amasa Lyon productions rank equal to the highest grades of those made in foreign countries. On account of their high standing and reputation, the Lyon umbrellas parasols and canes were the only make sold on the grounds of the Columbian Exposition.”

U-P Film Group and O-P Screening Room Cinema

Decades later, U-P Film Group and O-P Screening Room Cinema were located at 814 Broadway. The organizations were founded in the late 1960s by Palestinian Egyptian immigrant Rafic Azzouny, whom Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman called “an exuberant fixture of the downtown film and video scene for over three decades.” U-P Film Group and O-P Screening Room Cinema were both significant in the development of the Downtown underground and avant garde film and video scene. U-P was a filmmaking collective which allowed many more daring — or not commercially viable — artists to create their works, while O-P was a venue for showing these audacious or unconventional films.

“Christmas at the Other Side, Boston” by Nan Goldin. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

This was the first venue to show photographer Nan Goldin’s slideshows. It also played a key role in developing the career of pioneering underground filmmaker, performance artist, and photographer Jack Smith.

Protect the Area South of Union Square

Together, the many notable people and organizations associated with 814 Broadway provide a glimpse into the dynamic history of the neighborhood as a central location in photography, film, commerce, music, Civil War, and women’s history. We hope you’ll enjoy, explore, and advocate for saving this amazing neighborhood as we continue to add new layers of history to the South of Union Square map and tours. Dig in to learn more about the many important figures who made their homes here, including the trailblazing Black artist and educator Selma Hortense Burke, the leading Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, and the “Picasso of Dance” Martha Graham. Click through, also, to learn about the many other ways Grove Press, and the neighborhood’s “Tenth Street Galleries” broke new ground while in this area.

Given the increased pressure on this area exacerbated by the construction of the 14th Street Tech Hub, the demolition of the St. Denis Hotel (80 East 10th Street), and the completion of the woefully out-of-scale tech office tower at 808 Broadway, the time is now for the city to act to protect 814 Broadway and its surrounding neighborhood, an incredibly historically rich but endangered area:

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