Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From the Archives: Woolworth's on Fifth Avenue

In this post, archivist Anne Kumer shares some history. This post also appears on NYC Circa, a history blog about New York City, its buildings, and public spaces. 

Eleven years after B. Altman opened store at 34th and Fifth, the Woolworth's Board of Directors announced that the company would build a large store at the NE corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue. The new "Five and Ten Cent Store deluxe" Woolworth's opened in the Fall of 1917.

Parade route along Fifth Avenue -- most likely a WWI send-off parade. The parade is heading south; the view looking north. The Woolworth's store is on the far right, and brownstones where the future Arnold Constable building are to its right (north). Date, ca. 1917  Image: NYPL
Over ten years later, in 1930, the first supermarket was built in Jamaica, New York, making it possible for food shoppers to obtain most, if not all, of their groceries under one roof. That, along with the growth of the suburbs throughout the 1930s, popularized discount retailing. Discount retailers, such as Woolworth's, and in the 1950s, Korvette's and McCreery's, offered frequent sales, less individualized customer service, and savvy merchandising to attract a wide range of customers.

Window shopping on Fifth Avenue, ca. 1930. Image: MCNY
Throughout the 1930s, Woolworth's continued to grow and expand operations throughout the U.S. and in Canada. In 1937, the NYT announced that plans were filed to build the company's 1,000th store at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue, just one block south of the existing flagship store, and next door to the Arnold & Constable Co. store. It opened a year later, in 1938, sixty years after the the first  "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store" was opened in in Utica, New York.
Fifth Avenue looking north from 39th Street, ca. late 1930s / early 1940s. Image: Pisark
The new Woolworth's store was designed by architects Starrett & van Vleck, known for designing the flagships of several other department stores, including Lord & Taylor, on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets (It's still there.).

Woolworth's shopper shot by Stanley Kubrick, 1947. Image: MCNY

Before Woolworth's the NE corner of 39th Street and Fifth Avenue was home to the Union League Clubhouse. The Union League Club was founded on February 6, 1863, and incorporated on February 16, 1865 as a group of political elites in support of the Union. Among others, Bryant Park's namesake William Cullen Bryant was a member.

Union League Clubhouse, c. 1909, at the NE corner of 39th Street and Fifth Avenue. Image: LOC

The building at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue was the club's third location, having moved first from 17th Street to Madison Avenue and 26th Street. The club moved to 39th Street on March 5, 1881 and stayed until 1931, at which time it moved to it's present location at 37th Street and Park Avenue.

View of 39th Street and Fifth Avenue, showing the Union League Clubhouse and Arnold Constable & Co. store, 1929. Image: MCNY
The F.W. Woolworth Company went defunct in 1997, and as of 2001 the company has been part of Foot Locker Inc.

There are two Foot Locker stores in the 34th Street area, each within blocks of the former Woolworth's store at 35th Street and Broadway.

Woolworth's at 35th Street and Broadway, c. 1927 Image: Pisark

Other Sources
Union League Club Landmarks Preservation Commission Report, LP-2389
This book from Google book.

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