Inside Gimbels traverse, the secret perch near Herald Square

Looking up to the Gimbels traverse overhead on 32nd Street (Flickr/Docking Bay 93)

One of our podcast listeners Alexander Rea sent over the following photographs of a tucked-away place in one of the busiest areas of New York City — the Gimbels traverse on W. 32nd Street, in the Herald Square shopping district.

No doubt you’ve walked around the city and seen other sorts of traverses, those overhead bridges that link two buildings together, several stories up.  But the Gimbels traverse is perhaps the most interesting and the most beautiful in New York.  Today, this ornate treasure amusingly hangs right over Jack’s 99 Cent Store.  Here’s a bit of its history, revised from something I wrote a few years ago:

Macy’s kicked off the Herald Square department store district when it transferred here from its original 14th Street home in 1902.  [Listen to our Ladies’ Mile podcast for more information.]  Soon other department-store competitors of Macy’s flocked to the neighborhood in the early part of the 20th century. One strange vestige of this retail nostalgia still exists, in the form of a fabulous green copper traverse above W. 32nd Street.

Gimbels arrived in the Herald Square area in 1910 with a building designed by no less than Daniel Burnham (of Flatiron Building fame).  Gimbels was a more than worthy adversary of nearby Macy’s.  The early catchphrase ‘Well, would Macy’s tell Gimbels?’ exemplified the top-secret, competitive tactics of the two retail giants

Gimbels vied for attention with such wacky publicity stunts as sponsorship of a daredevil airplane race that sailed over the department store in 1911.  But despite (or perhaps, because of) other innovations such as the first ‘bargain basement’, Gimbels never reached the same hallmarks of class and reputation that Macy’s did.

In 1925, Gimbels decided to link its Herald Square store to a recently acquired annex across the street, via a custom traverse, a beautiful copper bridge, three stories tall, created by Richmond H. Shreve and William F. Lamb, a teeth-cutting project for two young architects who would go on to help design the Empire State Building.

Both the original Gimbels store and its annex have been radically modified over the years. Thankfully, the copper bridge (now, like the Statue of Liberty, in bright verdigris) has been left virtually intact.  Despite some fears that it might be getting ripped down, the musty but still beautiful sky bridge still hangs high above shopper’s heads, a reminder of a universe of cut-throat department-store wars.  (Inset pictures courtesy Flickr/moufle, Docking Bay 93)

Below: A sketch, dated 1927, by Gerald K Geerlings, showing the construction of the Gimbels traverse. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Rea, who works in the old Gimbels building (today the Manhattan Mall), was recently granted brief access into the traverse, which spends most its existence sealed off and empty.  Here are some of the images he was able to capture in his brief time inside, revealing some old signage and the world outside from this rare vantage.  Thanks for sharing, Alexander!

22 replies on “Inside Gimbels traverse, the secret perch near Herald Square”

The 2 different owners isn’t a problem – Minneapolis, Toronto and other cities are filled with skybridges linking neighboring office buildings. The problem is sorting out the issues of maintenance, security, etc., but that’s just a matter of negotiation.

Thanks so much for these photos! Our company, Seek, gives guided tours of the Garment District and the surrounding areas. We talk about the history of Gimbels on our tours, and always point out the traverse–it will be nice to give our guests a better description of what the inside of the walkway looks like. Thanks again!

I fell in love with this bridge when we visited New York for the first time New Year 2014.
It’s intriguing, beautiful and unique and an image that evokes memories of an amazing six day trip.
Thank you for posting details and images, it’s been lovely to discover its history
Gillian, Rucorn, England

I feel these pieces of history in my heart. I’m an original New Yorker and can’t get enough of photos and stories like this. There is endless history to learn and secrets that are revealed.
Thank you – keep them coming!

I recently rediscovered the Gimbels traverse. Fascinating! Was it ever used over the years? It would make a great location for a restaurant. Are there any plans for renovation?

Does anyone know of a plan to preserve the Gimbels traverse? With the Manhattan Mall empty and tenants leaving 100 33rd Street with rumors of building demolition pending, I’m worried about its future.

I worked at GIMBELS 33nd st and walked that traverse
they kept all the old paper work for ads in there
if we needed to prove a price was the lowest ever we need to find the old ads
it was a little scary and very dusty

An island in the sky 🙂 As a kid I always dreamed of LIVING in a traverse in NYC – like a floating railroad apartment. Alas, it never happened. Thank you for showing photos of my dream

I used the traverse daily when I worked at the Minkus Stamps Publishing company in the 70s. Jacques Minkus had stamp department concessions in all Gimbels Dept. Stores. I worked both at selling stamps on the southern street level, and crossing the traverse to his Stamp Catalog operation across 32nd street. Since I’m here, I’d love to see any photos of the stamps selling area, if anyone took them. Those were the days…

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