This month in real estate history

The Real Deal <i>looks back at some of New York's biggest real estate stories </i>


Department store giant Gimbel Brothers announced it would shutter the flagship location of its moderately priced clothing retailer Saks-34th Street, across the street from Macy’s in Herald Square, 45 years ago this month.

The decision to close was made in part because the building was outdated by modern shopping standards. The eight-story building at 1311 Broadway was constructed in 1902 and had no escalators. In addition, the site was closed because of confusion between the Saks-34th Street store and its more upscale counterpart, Saks Fifth Avenue. News reports said shoppers were not sure which products were offered in each store.

And there was a broader trend of higher-quality retail shifting from Herald Square to Fifth Avenue starting in the 1920s.

Gimbel’s bought Saks-34th Street and the not-yet-opened Saks Fifth Avenue for $8 million in stock in 1923. The Saks Fifth Avenue location at 611 Fifth Avenue at 50th Street opened in 1924.

Discount retailer E.J. Korvette’s opened in the Saks-34th Street location after minor refacing with verticle marble strips on the building’s facade. In 1985 the building was refinished in reflective glass and renamed Herald Center.


The most valuable commercial lease negotiated by a woman in New York City was struck for three properties south of the Plaza Hotel at the height of the 1920s real estate boom for more than $5 million, 81 years ago this month.

Floral business owner Rose Van Namee, president of House of Flowers, signed the deal that had an aggregate value of $5.3 million, for 2-4 West 56th Street and the adjacent building at 716 Fifth Avenue. The length of the lease was not provided.

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Van Namee was described as one of the city’s most prominent businesswomen in stories about her wedding two years earlier to the state’s chief utilities regulator, public service commissioner George Van Namee.

House of Flowers needed to move out of its previous location at 612 Fifth Avenue because it was in the footprint of the Rockefeller Center development between 49th and 50th streets. House of Flowers was founded in 1874 by Charles Thorley, who developed it into a leading society floral shop. Van Namee became president after Thorley’s death in 1923.

The floral company, under the name Thorley House of Flowers, later moved to the Carlyle Hotel, where it was located until at least 1963.


A plan to convert part of Brooklyn’s Coney Island from a teeming and bawdy beach retreat into a bucolic municipal park briefly gained momentum 111 years ago this month.

The city’s Board of Public Improvements took up the charge, led by City Controller Bird Coler, to create an approximately 600-acre park in the center of Coney Island. Coler, along with other elected officials, church congregations and residents, said the raucous neighborhood was full of vice and needed to be cleaned up. He was also taking advantage of a devastating fire that tore through the center of the district, destroying at least 60 mostly two-story wooden structures.

But the measure faced fierce opposition from residents who liked the neighborhood the way it was. Also, elected officials were reluctant to spend the estimated $9 million to buy the land. It was projected to cost another $6 million to convert the site to a park and build new structures like pavilions and bathing houses.

The project died a little over a month later, after the Board of Public Improvements set the plan aside indefinitely, citing its high cost.

But the city went forward with a more limited public project two decades later. Today’s beachfront park, stretching from West 37th Street to Ocean Parkway, opened in 1923.

Compiled by Adam Pincus