During the years 1903 to 1907, construction was underway for an imposing steel frame structure located on the block bounded by Broadway, Fourth Avenue, and East 8th and 9th Streets. A second phase of construction occurred in 1924 to subsume the “Jones Building,” an existing nine-story commercial building at the northeast corner of Broadway and East 8th Street. When completed, the Renaissance Revival building at 770 Broadway encompassed the full block and reached fourteen stories tall, with grand triple-height arched window bays along all four sides.
Designed by Chicago architecture firm D.H. Burnham & Co., the building features limestone and terra cotta cladding throughout. Due to the unique interruption of the street grid formed by Astor Place, the Fourth Avenue and 8th Street portions of the building can be viewed from a wider angle than is otherwise typical, providing sweeping views of these prominent facades.
The structure was purpose built for John Wanamaker (1839-1922), founder of Wanamaker’s Department Store, one of the first department stores in the United States. He had created a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia in 1861, and by 1877, augmented the original store to include women’s wares and dry goods. In 1896 the business expanded to New York. The first Wanamaker’s in New York City was located across East 9th Street from what would become 770 Broadway, in the old A.T. Stewart cast-iron store (since demolished due to a fire).
Wanamaker’s became one of the city’s leading department stores until its closure in 1955. After the store’s departure, 770 Broadway was converted to office space on the upper floors, while the first three floors continued to be occupied by various retailers (photographs from the 1960s show that, among other businesses, the space was leased to several banks for a time). The building was designated a New York City landmark as part of the NoHo Historic District on June 29, 1999.
In 1996, Kmart moved in. As a big box chain store, it was perhaps an outlier in terms of the typical neighborhood fare, but Kmart nonetheless became a mainstay for the next 25 years, selling everything from t-shirts, to housewares, to holiday decor that was often dubiously out-of-season. Many fondly recall entering the store directly from its one-of-a-kind basement entrance accessed from the Astor Place southbound 6 train platform.
A New York Times article lamenting Kmart’s closure in July 2021 also noted that apparently, many locals thought the store might have been haunted, and shared that:
“It was a Kmart, yes, but dustier than any you had ever seen and stranger than you would expect. It wasn’t necessarily reliable, but it was relied upon… a store that existed, despite everything.”
When Kmart left 770 Broadway in 2021, the massive storefront’s fate was initially unclear. But it soon became known that construction was underway for Manhattan’s first Wegmans supermarket. Founded in 1916 as the family-owned “Rochester Fruit and Vegetable Company” in Rochester, New York, today Wegmans has somewhat of a cult following with stores up and down the East Coast (in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, and Washington D.C.). The first NYC location opened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2019.
Much like Wanamaker’s, which continued to be a family-owned business throughout its duration at 770 Broadway, Wegmans is still family-run to this day. In this way, the building will once again honor its original purpose and service to the community. When it was a department store throughout all floors of the building, the shopping “palace” contained 32 acres of retail space, a central court, an auditorium with 1,300 seats, and a large restaurant to round out the shopping experience. Though Wegmans will only occupy the first two floors, it will still constitute a massive store for this area of the city. Take a sneak peek at the interiors before the highly anticipated supermarket opens on October 18th, 2023.