Long before the building at 46th & 7th Ave was a TGI Friday’s, it was owned by Israel Miller, a Polish immigrant who came to the US in 1892 and became famous making shoes for theatrical productions. As his shoes grew in popularity, he soon found himself making shoes for Broadway stars to use in their personal lives. This building was once his showroom.
The front on 7th Ave is obscured beyond repair, but it’s amazing to me how untouched the southern facade is. Note the quote along the top: “The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated To Beauty In Footwear.” But the real highlight of this building are the four statues lining the second story.
In 1929, Miller held a public contest to select actresses in drama, musical comedy, opera and film to be honored on his building, dressed as their most defining role. The first, for drama, is Ethel Barrymore (great aunt of Drew, sister of John) as Ophelia (I love how TGI Friday’s didn’t make their sign a foot shorter to not cover up her first name):
For musical comedy is Marilyn Miller in the title role of the play Sunny:
Next is Mary Pickford in her film role as Little Lord Fauntleroy:
And finally, we have Rosa Ponselle in Bellini’s Norma.
This wall is my absolute favorite “hidden gem” in Times Square. I love that it represents a time when the public actually had a favorite star of stage and opera, in addition to film. I love that the actors were memorialized in costume, bringing you instantly back to a different age of Broadway. But most of all, I love that, for all the soulless modernization, glitz, and glamour of Times Square, despite being covered in dirt and grime and largely ignored by the millions who pass it daily, this continues to exist. In my opinion, it is the only bit of charm that still exists in Times Square.
In 1990, the organization “Save Our Theaters” sought landmark status for the building, citing the above history. It was denied.