The building on the Northeast corner of 34th and Fifth Avenue is one of my favorites in the area. It has the most beautiful accents over the doors, like fragile turtle shells leading to a world I long to be in: The CUNY Graduate Center, most specifically, the Gotham Center. You can get an advanced degree in NYC history there. How cool is that?
But the building has been more than that. In 1906, the B. Altman Department store opened its Flagship store in this building. The company had been around since 1865. The first store opened on the Lower East Side at 3rd Avenue and 10th street. That building is gone.
In 1877, the store moved to 6th Avenue between 18th and 19th street so they could expand and offer more products. That beautiful building now contains a Container Store.
The move to 5th avenue and 34th street was pretty daring for the company. They had moved out of the Ladies Mile (Broadway to 6th Avenue, 14th street to 23rd street) and into an area that was mostly residential. The store sat across from the residence of Altman’s rival, A.T. Stewart, and diagonally from the grand mansion of Mrs. Astor (the richest lady in town).
On March 12, 1985, Altman’s Fifth Avenue building was designated a New York City landmark. When Altman’s closed in 1989, the building stood vacant until 1996. The exterior was restored and the interior reconfigured to be used by the City University of New York as its Graduate Center on the Fifth Avenue side, by the New York Public Library as the Science, Industry and Business Library on the Madison Avenue side, and by Oxford University Press.