The other day, I was walking through Times Square and discovered you are signed on to be the proud new tenants of one of my favorite buildings in the neighborhood, 1552 Broadway. Congratulations!!
I know it might not look like much at first. In fact, at just four stories, it may just be the shortest building in Times Square proper. But while it doesn’t have towering walls of windows, or space-age architecture…
…swing around to its 46th Street side…
…and you’ll find an irreplaceable piece of Times Square history, something special that has miraculously survived for nearly 100 years.
You see, back in the 1920′s, your building used to be a showroom for I. Miller shoes, famous for supplying actors and dancers in New York and beyond with footwear. If you look along the top of the building, you’ll see their slogan still remains: “The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear.”
But what I’ve always loved about 1552 Broadway are the four statues lining the upper floors. Mr. Miller wanted to celebrate the performing arts with his building, and added a series of wonderful sculptures set in gold-mosaicked niches depicting the leading female actors of the day.
For cinema, here’s Mary Pickford in her title role as Little Lord Fauntleroy:
For musical comedy, here’s Marilyn Miller in her title role as Sunny:
For drama, we have Ethel Barrymore (great aunt of Drew) as Ophelia:
And finally, for opera, Rosa Ponselle in Bellini’s Norma:
Miller was especially proud of his contribution to Times Square, as evidenced by this advertisement which ran around the time of the store’s opening.
And here, we get a rare glimpse of the beautiful Miller store as it once was: arched windows lined with polished marble, a stately limestone facade, and pristine white statuary set into gold nooks (and are those flower boxes in the windows??). According to the NY Times, architect Louis Friedland set out to design a building “as dignified and elegant as Mr. Miller’s footwear.”
And for the past 13 years, Thank Goodness It’s Friday, the tenants who preceded you, have treated it like absolute shit.
Today, the entire facade is covered in soot and grime:
This is bad, even for Times Square:
Entire chunks of marble are missing…
…while other gaps have been filled in with concrete:
Worst of all, when TGIF put up its banner, they couldn’t even be bothered to accommodate Ms. Barrymore’s full name. If I were Drew, I’d be pretty pissed.
As I walked by the other day, I noticed the interior of the former TGIF being gutted. Good riddance.
Anyway Express, I heard you were planning on merging with some neighboring buildings. In fact, this is exactly what Mr. Miller did way back in 1926. First, he set up shop where the electronics store is in 1915, then merged into the corner building in 1926.
I’m also guessing you’re going to be decking out the Times Square side with state-of-the-art video advertising – and again, you might be surprised to find you’re simply following tradition. For most of its existence, the western side of 1552 Broadway has been covered in advertising, from Domino Sugar ads in 1910 on. By all means, amaze us.
But with the 46th Street facade, you have a rare opportunity to help restore a piece of Times Square history, and I urge you to embrace it to the fullest. Don’t hide this beauty in flashy advertising and digital gimmickry. Don’t treat it as an afterthought, or an annoyance, or something to be hidden away.
Because somewhere, underneath all that grit and grime and decay, this is what you could have again:
Why on Earth wouldn’t you celebrate it?
Thank you for your time. I’ll check back in a few months to see how things are coming along.
PS – If you feel the same, maybe retweet this article to @expresslife?
PPS – McDonald’s did it right, Express – so can you!
PPPS – Several people have asked if the building is landmarked. It is, and has been since 1999 – a sad example of how such a designation can only do so much.
PPPPS – The four actresses immortalized at 1552 Broadway were selected by a public contest. Here’s the original ballot – note an early sketch of the building, with the Broadway side revealed (thanks to reader Margaret’s Dad for linking to the landmark report):