The Addams Family House Near Union Square

I have to admit, when I saw the incredible two-story mansard roof of 881 Broadway (at 19th Street) illuminated from a nearby rooftop recently…

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…the first thing that came to mind was the Addams Family mansion:

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881 Broadway / 115 Fifth Ave has always been one of my favorite buildings in Manhattan for its rooftop design.

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Riddled with sharp angles and abrupt curves, its gothic flourishes are both menacing and haunting (despite a Victoria’s Secret on the ground level).

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The building actually covers an entire city block, claiming at least three different addresses (881 Broadway, 115 Fifth Ave, 10 East 19th Street). Unfortunately, as you can see below, much of the first level was gutted at some point:

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Below is the Broadway side. Although it’s pretty spectacular from the ground, I’ve always felt it was a bit too far away to fully appreciate .

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As it happens, I recently had the chance to go on the roofs of a few neighboring buildings to see it up close, and wanted to share my pictures. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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I would love to see the room inside that raised portion of the roof:

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The intricate iron fence winding its way around the perimeter is a really great touch:

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The building was designed by architect Griffith Thomas in 1868 for Arnold Constable & Co., a dry-goods company. Over the following years, it was expanded into a full-fledged department store servicing such elite families as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. Read a full history here.

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I love the twirling design work above the windows, and the ovular windows piggybacking right on top:

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The Fifth Ave corner – note the brick chimney with the pipe addition on the left. Was it once attached to a working fireplace?

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A closer look. I would also love to have a look in those corner turrets:

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What never ceases to amaze me is the fact that the architect must have known the top level would be very difficult to take-in from the street, especially with the surrounding buildings, and yet put the effort in anyway.

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14 comments

  1. What is interesting is that there is an image of this building at this link
    http://www.preserve2.org/ladiesmile/lowerfifth.htm

    but the copy seems to talk about a building next door. The credit for the image of this building calls it the “Arnold Constable annex, 115 Fifth Avenue” The copy on that link eludes to it being a building of architects, but it might be referring to the building once next door –

    I would think if so much detail is on top and generally out of view, then the energy must have been spent for the experience of the interior. I’d love to take a look at that space under the roof.

  2. The building is a former flagship of the Arnold Constable department store.

    Here’s a picture and some good information:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilio_guerra/4286953572/

    Prior to this 5th Avenue location, the Arnold Constable store had another ornate building, at Canal and Mercer:

    http://unitedaland.com/projects.php?activeLoc=9

    And bottom of:

    http://www.epicharmus.com/masterpiece/2008/07/80e-soho-historic-district.html

    SoHo’s now more-or-less complete transformation from artist mecca to upscale shopping mall may distress those who have lived there for 30 or 40 years, but in many ways it’s a return to roots. The ‘gentrification pattern’ of Manhattan in the 19th and early 20th century more or less involved the slow uptown migration of a collection of very fancy retail establishments that left in its wake many, many great buildings.

  3. I believe it was the Arnold Constable & Co department store, designed by Griffith Thomas.

  4. I don’t know which I like better–the posts where you show me something I’ve never seen before, or the posts where you show me something new about a place Ive always loved. This is one of the latter; thanks for the detailed images of that roofline. Yeah, it’s definitely a cross between the Addams Family house and the Psycho house!

  5. I work in the building across 19th (the roof you were on, perhaps?), and my 7th floor windows face that beautiful mansard roof. Definitely agree with Karen. Thanks!

  6. First of all, your blog is endlessly fascinating. I totally look forward to your new posts.

    Second, I was just having this conversation with someone last week. I was on a tour a building in lower Manhattan and happened to notice out the window of the 40-some-odd floor that the building was decorated in red and green terra cotta flowers on a vivid blue background. When the building was built 100 years ago there couldn’t have been any way the builders could have imagined anyone seeing those details. It’s either confounding that they would invest the money or a total ego trip knowing that these beautiful treasures were for their eyes only or absolutely visionary that someday the city would grow up around the building and people would be able to enjoy it. I can’t decide which.

  7. Maybe it wasn’t for the architects. Was the roof mainly for the well to do? Maybe the ego trip was for them, who could afford the fancy stuff that no one else could see.

  8. Neato. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Update us with a photo when you get access to that square-turreted room! I agree…endlessly fascinating!

  10. You’re actually not that far from the house that inspired the Addams family house in my hometown of Westfield, NJ – http://westfieldnj.com/addams/

  11. Peter Gallinari

    Pass it daily and point it out to tourists

  12. The Addams Family house was not “inspired” by any structure other than the actual house used in filming, which is located in Exeter, New Hampshire.

  13. This is literally my favorite! I was freelancing 3 years ago and didn’t realize until I got to the building that I would be working in my all time favorite building for several weeks. Gorgeous old creaky hardwood floors and a not totally taken care of vibe at the Polo Jeans office but there were other companies on the other floors so who knows how they decked their floors out. I’m still kicking myself for not trying to get up to the top floors. In my imagination they look like some creepy rich old ladies mansion.

  14. they should made a the munsters show and like the universal lot would have een nice for land tourests too look at my thoughts

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