UPDATE FOR 2020: It was announced today that Lord & Taylor, America’s first department store, has announced it will go out of business after 193 years. It began in 1826 as women’s clothing store in Lower Manhattan.
In tribute, we are bumping up this article from 1914, framed around its 1914 move to the Fifth Avenue shopping district.
Thank you Lord & Taylor — for the glamour, for the Christmas windows, for legacy that reaches back to the earliest year of New York retail history.
Lord & Taylor’s at Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, in the 1920s, photo by the Wurts Brothers (courtesy NYPL)
Loehmann’s, the once-great Brooklyn-based department store, closes all their locations for good tomorrow, another causality of the changing economy and people’s changing tastes in shopping.
But let’s not dwell on the decline of the department store. Let’s revisit the heyday, shall we?
Lord and Taylor Department Store opened the doors to their tony Fifth Avenue address one hundred years ago yesterday, on February 24, 1914.
“Half way between Madison Square and Central Park on the west side of Fifth Avenue, is the new Lord & Taylor store in the very centre of the sphere of fashionable activity of the city and is convenient to all the transportation lines, to the hotels and restaurants and to the theatres.”
The store traces its lineage to a three-story women’s clothing store on 47 Catherine Street, which was opened in 1826 by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor. Nearby, men could find equally fine fashions at the clothier of H & D.H.. Brooks (today Brooks Brothers) at Catherine and Cherry Streets. Catherine Street is hardly a place where you would look for high-end brands today, located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.
Lord & Taylor had subsequent locations in Manhattan at Broadway and Grand Street and, later, at Broadway and 20th Street on Ladies Mile.
Flash forward to 1914 — the new store was an automated wonder, according to the New York Sun, equipped with a system of conveyor belts. “[T]he human equation has been eliminated wherever possible and machinery performs its part quietly and out of sight.”
Shoppers could also escape to the tenth floor for “a dainty luncheon” or some afternoon tea:
The building is in the go-to architectural style for department stores — Italian Renaissance Revival — and, apparently, the go-to architectural firm for such places, Starrett and Van Vleck, also known for Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The new store made a unique appeal to the male shopper with its tailored men’s department, “a realm of complete masculinity”. There was a men’s-only entrance on the 38th Street side where gentlemen could access the Manicuring Parlor. “[M]ake your purchases, be shaved and manicured, change your clothing, if you like, and leave without passing through any of the departments where women’s goods are sold.” In addition, the entire fourth floor was “devoted to men’s apparel and accessories for motoring.”
The store also had featured an Equestrienne Section, including “a mechanical horse, duplicating the actual motion of walking, trotting, or cantering.”
In 2007, the Lord & Taylor building was made an official New York landmark.