An Open Letter To Express: Will You Help Save A Times Square Treasure?

Dear Express,

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!!

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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…

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…swing around to its 46th Street side…

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…and you’ll find an irreplaceable piece of Times Square history, something special that has miraculously survived for nearly 100 years.

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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.”

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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:

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For musical comedy, here’s Marilyn Miller in her title role as Sunny:

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For drama, we have Ethel Barrymore (great aunt of Drew) as Ophelia:

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And finally, for opera, Rosa Ponselle in Bellini’s Norma:

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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.

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Picture courtesy NYC blog Lost City – Click for the full article!

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.”

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Picture courtesy NYC blog Lost City – Click for the full article!

And for the past 13 years, Thank Goodness It’s Friday, the tenants who preceded you, have treated it like absolute shit.

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Today, the entire facade is covered in soot and grime:

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This is bad, even for Times Square:

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Entire chunks of marble are missing…

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…while other gaps have been filled in with concrete:

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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.

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As I walked by the other day, I noticed the interior of the former TGIF being gutted. Good riddance.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Because somewhere, underneath all that grit and grime and decay, this is what you could have again:

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Picture courtesy the NYC blog Lost City – Click for the full article!

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.

Best,

Scout

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):

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31 comments

  1. How many of us have walked past this facade a thousand times and never noticed the I. Miller vestiges?

    Anyway, signage on this building must be licensed by the City. (In fact, the Riese Group, which owned the building until 2010, failed to register the present signs, and had to pay a $240,000 fine and get approval before selling). According to http://therealdeal.com/blog/2011/05/03/sl-green-realty-and-jeff-sutton-in-contract-to-purchase-landmark-i-miller-shoe-building-1552-broadway-in-times-square-for-135-milion/, the building has approvals for the two present signs (which may be upgraded to digital) plus one more.

    Apparently, part of Express’ lease benefits is that it controls (and can partially lease out) 14,500 square feet of electric signage, which this article describes it as “above the building.” http://commercialobserver.com/2012/07/suttons-place-the-behind-the-scenes-negotiations-that-led-to-jeff-suttons-blockbuster-1552-broadway-acquisition/?show=all

    Hard to be sure, but it sounds as if Express may add only one more sign under current City approvals, and that the planned signage is above the building, not on the building’s facade.

    Given the $135M purchase price and the Express lease that the above article calls the “retail deal of the year,” perhaps Sutton will throw in some facade cleaning and restoration?

  2. I sincerely hope you’re right that a major retailer can see how preservation can actually help showcase themselves as a good corporate citizen (now that they’re “people”).

  3. Excellent…thank you for pointing this out. Times Square is MY neighborhood too and I’m all for preserving originality and history.

  4. Whoops wrong website left. (Sorry). Please stay on this for us!! I’ll be watching too as I walk by this building ever so frequently.

  5. As always … Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of forgotten New York history … Being a resident of Philadelphia, I love that you share these NY gems about which I might never know … Here’s hoping EXPRESS does good …

  6. You can also tweet the article to their CMO – @ExpressLisaG

  7. I hope they do the right thing. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to encourage them.

    Can we hope that TGIF is going out of business entirely? Because I certainly don’t intend to eat there ever again.
    That sort of neglect is just shameful.

  8. Don’t let this piece of hisory be destroyed. Please

  9. As a silent film historian AND New York City architectural preservationist, I strongly urge Express to do the right thing by this building. I also urge anyone interested in this to share to story as much as possible!

  10. What a wonderful post – I’ve shared via Facebook & Twitter and made sure to cc Express. I hope they honor the history of the building!

  11. Thank you for calling attention to this. I remember seeing and loving this building when I first came to the city but I had forgotten about it as well. How does someone get a building designated as an Historic Landmark? Seems this would be a ripe case for that.

  12. Knew the history of the building, but not about the neglect…I always stop and look up at the buildings around me-so many built prewar had glorious stonework that is not done anymore. I always tell friends who visit to do the same-otherwise they are missing a lot of what makes NYC unique! I’m surprised that this is not on the Historic Landmarks list-or is it?

  13. You are my hero! Thank you, Scout.

  14. sorry I don’t do twitter is there any other means – like a petition or something?

    • I don’t tweet either, that doesn’t mean we can’t give them the bird by other means. Sorry to disappoint you Nick, but Express is another one of those mall stores that Jeremiah rants about on his web site. Expecting one of these outfits to do the right thing is like expecting the Mets to contend for the World Series.

  15. Just posted the link to this article on Express’ Facebook page.

    Does anyone have info on 23 Lexington Ave. (23rd & Lex.) when it was a hotel?

  16. There is a reason I stay out of Times Square. If I want to go to a mall I will go to Jersey or Yonkers or Long Island somewhere.

  17. I noticed those statues about four years ago:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/klg19/2819066199/

    I was blown away by how cool the facade was.

    I’m going to go tweet up a storm; this begs to be restored. Thanks, Scout!

  18. Thanks for sharing! Wonderful history and images. I sure hope the future holds better for this amazing piece of real estate. I have admired this for years when walking through Times Square.

  19. The tenant cannot restore anything, the work would have to be done by the landlord. Appeal to the landlord, Jeff Sutton and SL Green

  20. Why do we have to keep going downhill and crucify our lovely buildings? Where’s the respect?

  21. Worked on a live/taped syndicated new year’s show in 1990 that used the roof and a production truck on the sidewalk in front of the TGIF for the live segments with Buffalo Bob Smith and Ed “Kookie” Byrnes.
    With so many of these buildings disappearing from the upper TSq area, this should be saved.

  22. I was watching the Tracy/Hepburn movie Pat & Mike (1952) and in the background outside Spencer Tracy’s office is this building! Scenes are about 40 minutes in.

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/105499152599203630773/posts/dNWhjCFjcdp

  23. Just walked past yesterday… the statues are gone. Not sure if they were moved to protect them during construction, or if they’re being relocated…

  24. As this building has landmark status, I doubt they could just junk the statues. I’ve read that the owner is planning on joining this building with the building to the east; they are keeping the exterior, besides the east wall, but removing the interior, so I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the south wall will be safe. You are right that the statues were probably moved for restoration. I am tentatively excited that this thing may turn out in excellent condition, but this being Times Square with a recent $136 million purchase, there is always room for nervousness.

    I walked past today and saw there is now scaffolding surrounding the entire building. It didn’t look like any work has been done yet, and the PlazaConstruction.com website gives no details.

  25. Nice. Thank a lot for doing such a good job. I will definitely come to this site to find out more and inform my people about it.

  26. well i tweeted at them again, asking for an update. will have to swing by this weekend to check out the site. hardly ever over in the times square area!

  27. I stumbled across this article and found it very interesting so I did a few more searches and found another article: http://lostnewyorkcity.blogspot.com/2012/12/statues-at-times-squares-show-folks.html that states the building is indeed being restored.

  28. The renovations are finished and Express has opened. The statues are back, clean, and spruced up, the gilding looks golden…. It all looks pretty good by night and streetlight, when I was last there, though sometime I really need to get there during daylight to take some photos.

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