“The streets were never so crowded with Christmas shoppers. The interior of Tiffany’s shop was jammed full this afternoon. Navigation on Broadway is impeded by the great raft of carriages before Stewart’s store” (December 22, 1873, The Diary of George Templeton Strong, Vol.4).
Unprecedented growth took place in New York City in the mid-19th century and the neighborhood surrounding present day Baruch College reaped the benefits–residential areas were expanding and moving uptown, transportation was improving, and institutions from schools to churches built structures to house their constituents. The Free Academy (presently Baruch College) was founded in 1847, the same year that Madison Square Park opened. The area showed signs of developing into a prosperous residential area with large townhouses surrounding the new park as well as religious institutions and clubs built to meet the needs of local residents. Venues for entertainment such as Franconi’s Hippodrome, the Masonic Temple and the Eden Musee came north too, and hotels and other services followed. Commerce responded to the population growth by either moving already existing stores uptown or opening new retail establishments in the rowhouses of the area. It wasn’t until 1861 that the Mortimer Building at Broadway, 5th Avenue and East 22nd Street, was constructed specifically for commercial use. After the Civil War the district grew and took on the character of a shopping district frequented by the rich and famous known as “Ladies’ Mile.” By the end of World War I many of the larger stores had closed, again moving uptown, leaving their establishments vacant and available for commercial use. New York City is ever evolving and redefining itself and “Ladies’ Mile” is no exception. Rowhouses disappeared, manufacturing came and went and today the area has been revitalized and is again a shopping destination.
Designated as an historic district by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1989, “Ladies’ Mile” includes 14th to 23rd streets, along Broadway, Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Stores lining these blocks included such iconic establishments as R.H. Macy, Tiffany’s, and Lord & Taylor. Joining them was B. Altman, Arnold Constable, W & J Sloane, McCreery, Best & Company, Stern Brothers, Siegel-Cooper Department Store, and many smaller merchants. The more elegant stores built cast-iron palaces influenced by European style architecture. It was these stores that attracted customers not only from New York City but from around the world who could spend hours browsing, buying, eating, relaxing or enjoying other services.