OVER A CENTURY OF RETAIL HISTORY ON ONE HALF-DEMOLISHED BLOCK

The East side of Broadway between 79th and 80th street has gone through many transformations over the years, but it’s always been a bustling retail thoroughfare. With half of the block having just been demolished to make way for a new building, we thought we’d show some photos of how the block transformed over the  years, starting in 1912.

Ironically enough, these kinds of two-story buildings were commonly known as “taxpayers,” modest structures meant to bring in enough rental income to cover the taxes until a buyer came along to transform them into something more lucrative. We couldn’t find the exact date of construction but these buildings have lasted more than 100 years before finding a more lucrative use (luxury residential real estate of course).

First a look way back at that block:

bway 79 1890
This is a photo by Robert Bracklow of Broadway and 79th street in 1890, although it’s not clear if this is the East or West side of the block. Little did the owner of that house know what was about to happen on his lawn!

oliver olson2
This is the Northeast corner of 79th street and Broadway in 1912 via the Museum of the City of New York. The store on the corner is the Oliver A. Olson department store.

oliver olson store
The same store two years later, gussied up with billboard ads like Times Square. You can see the dresses in the windows too. Also via MCNY.

bway at 79
Looking North on Broadway from 79th in 1920. Photo by Arthur Hosking, who made a whole series of Broadway photos. From this photo is looks like the building on the 80th street corner may have been modified at some point, because it appears to have more columns than it did years later.

79 bway 1957
The same block in 1957. Woolworth moved in in 1930. This appears to be a city tax photo. Thanks to Jean Kweskin for the heads-up.

estes woolworth
A painting from the block looking South by Richard Estes in 1974. As you can see, the block had gotten a subway station by then, which brought shoppers more easily to the stores.

woolworths-1985-copy
A photo looking South from the Broadway median from 1985 by Matt Weber, whose evocative pictures you can purchase here. (Click the photo to enlarge it.) As you can see in the photo, mid-market and discount stores have made their home on that block for years, from Price-Wise Discount and Fayva Shoes to Lionel Kiddie City Toys and Circuit City to…

filenes

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 1.04.47 AM
Filene’s Basement! Filene’s opened this store in 1993 — its first Manhattan location. The Times report at the time said “Filene’s Basement had been targeting the Upper West Side, Mr. Gibson said, in part because of the neighborhood’s dense residential population. The building, he said, is in ‘a highly trafficked area, across the street from Zabar’s’ that is home to other high-profile retailers, among them Conran’s, Talbots and the new Barnes and Noble superstore, and is rapidly becoming a major shopping destination. The IRT’s 1/9 line and the M104 bus stop right on the corner, he added, and ramps for the Henry Hudson Parkway are just two blocks away, allowing the store to be ‘a destination shopper, not just an area store.'”

Filene’s closed at the end of 2011, and Fox’s briefly moved in on the 80th street side. DSW opened on the 79th street side in July 2012.

Here’s what the block looks like now:

79-80 broadway

Kinda sad in its current state, isn’t it? The 80th street corner is set to become a residential development, although accounts differ on exactly how tall it’s going to be. In any case, we hope it will have a vibrant retail section, in keeping with more than 100 years of tradition.

The Zabar’s family, which owns the 79th street building, has no plans to demolish it, Saul Zabar has told several people (if nothing else he has to preserve the Banksy on the wall!).

If anyone else has more photos of this block, please send them and we’ll add them. And leave your memories in the comments!

HISTORY, NEWS | 33 comments | permalink
    1. geoff says:

      a terrific assemblage of photos.

      in the 1890s shot, is the building behind, and the (what i think is) the afternoon sun/shadows a clue as to which corner is shown?

    2. DMH says:

      Love this photo history. Thank you WSR!

      I feel sheepish asking this, but I thought the entire UWS was landmark district? I like seeing new housing, but that building they just demolished had a lot of charm. If the air rights permitted, keeping the existing architecture but adding stories on top seems like it would have been better.

      • Jean says:

        I agree! After hearing of the proposed demolition, I noticed the building had a lot of beautiful, understated details. What a shame. The proposed building looks like it belongs in midtown not the UWS.

    3. Roseann says:

      What a great series of photos of such a well known corner. Thanks, it sure brings back memories.

    4. jerry says:

      This is great! Looking forward to more. PS…as a “foodie” (hate that term), anybody eaten at the relatively new Tessa? I enjoy Cesca, but am always on the lookout for a new fine restaurant – and it was nice to see the good old,reliable and terrific Sal and Carmine’s included in their list of NY’s top 25 pizziarias (sp).

      • meghan says:

        Perhaps you’ve visited it by now, but Tessa is one of my favorite new spots. I’ve been there at least a half dozen times and never had anything I didn’t like.

    5. jean says:

      Great job Avi!
      Thank you!

    6. Jean says:

      If you look closely at the top photo you will notice a horse grazing in front of the porch.

    7. David says:

      Actually that end of the block has housed a succession of emporia over recent decades all of which lacked vibrancy. Circuit City, The extension of Filene’s Basement, Fox’s, Zale’s. And surely the building had no facade worth preserving.

    8. Mszd says:

      Wasn’t there also a Rug Warehouse on the second floor of the building during the 80’s and 90’s?

      • manhattanmarg says:

        yes there was a rug store on the second floor of the 79th St corner building. It was called Central Carpet. It then moved to Columbus between 80th & 81st Street, some time in the late 80s early 90s, as I recall …

      • Craig Heard says:

        Yes. It closed at NE corner of 79th Street and Broadway and moved to SE corner of 80th Street and Broadway. Both were second floor locations.

    9. Ali Oteach says:

      Born and raised here – fully recall shopping Woolworths in the 70s! It was the first place I used my “own money”…good memory.

    10. Deri says:

      We moved to the nabe in Dec. ’92, and I remember Filene’s opening, I guess a few months later. Anyone know what was there just before? Pretty sure it wasn’t Woolworths!

    11. AC says:

      Good find , , , as an Upper West Sider residing on West 80 street (down the street from the corner) all my life, I can remember going to Woolworth’s in the early 70’s for snow cones and enjoying their basement (toy and pet departments were there). And how we can forget FOOD CITY (the place closed in the early 80’, as the neighborhood took a dive). Had it only remained open, that place would have made $$$ nowadays!

    12. JF says:

      I think the W80 corner was a Circuit City from at least 2000 to 2006 or 2007

    13. Wendy says:

      Fabulous! Thank you! Keep these historical photos coming!!

      Does anyone remember the penny candy store on Broadway between 89th and 90th on the west side of the street, late 70’s? What was the name of that place?

    14. nancy wight says:

      Thanks for sharing those wonderful old photos. I well remember the Woolworth’s and the great Filene’s Basement. Alas!

    15. Barbara says:

      Did the Woolworth building ever have a ping pong hall on top?

      • jsf says:

        I remember the ping-pong hall, famous for the Olympic champs who played there, was on 96th St. on the Southwest corner – but that was in the 50’s

        • Brenda says:

          Absolutely correct!! 96th street ping pong was home to the GREAT Marty Reisman in the late 40s, early 50s.
          Hustled when he could, but a great teacher the rest of the time to a whole generation of West Side guys.

      • manhattanmarg says:

        I recall it being a ping pong parlor in the mid 70s.

        • AC says:

          The name of the Billards/Ping Pong Hall was called Guys and Dolls, and it was located right above Woolworth’s. In the early 70’s it started to become a bad scene. I remember street walkers hanging on the corner of 80 and B’way and would use the Notre Dame Hotel (present day 219 West 80 Street). Right next door, present day 221 West 80 Street there use to a community center and it would house a “little people’s disco.” It eventually became the Phoenix House.

    16. jsf says:

      Thank you so much for the photos. I lived on 82nd St. between B’Way and Amsterdam in the l950’s. It seems, in retrospect, so antiquated, but it didn’t seem so then.

    17. Jocelyn says:

      Kiddy City used to be there too!

    18. There was a fantastic rug/carpet store on the second floor of the building for years in 80’s. I bought my first Buchara Persian rug there and still have it!

    19. Rob says:

      Deri, there was a Toys R Us location on the ground floor in 1992 and 1993, in between Woolworth’s time and the Filenes era. Filenes was announced in 1993 but did not actually open until early 1994.

    20. Samantha says:

      The baptist church on the NW corner was built in 1891, so it may be that the first photo is the NW corn. Such great memories….

    21. Carl says:

      Thank you for these photos, this captures the history perfectly. I was born on 85th & CPW, 1970. I miss Woolworth & Fayva (my first Olympian sneakers). I like how beautiful they’re making the area, just wish a lot of the “neighborhood feel” stayed.