The Prettiest Building In Times Square Has Been Saved

Last year in September, I wrote an open letter to the new owners of the property at 1552 Broadway in Times Square asking a simple request: that they save a Times Square treasure.

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Nearly 100 years before it became a decrepit, out-of-business TGIF, 1552 Broadway was the showroom for I. Miller shoes, famous for supplying actors and dancers in New York and beyond with footwear. The building was gorgeous, with arched windows lined with polished marble, a stately limestone facade, and pristine white statuary set into gold nooks representing the leading actresses of the day.

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And over the past 13 years, TGIF let it rot.

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When I took these pictures last year, the entire facade was covered in soot and grime:

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Entire chunks of marble were missing…

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…while other gaps had been filled in with concrete:

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The four statues were in a sad state…

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TGIF cared so little, they couldn’t even be bothered to accommodate Ethel Barrymore’s full name.

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The I. Miller logo running around the top was still “dedicated to beauty,” but beauty was hard to see beneath the neglect.

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Last year, TGIF finally moved out and the building switched owners, with plans to open as an Express. Shortly after, scaffolding went up, the statues disappeared, and the windows were boarded as renovations commenced. Would they save it? Or would they hide it behind Express ads and let it continue to decay?

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A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader saying that the scaffolding was finally off, and that I should take a look.

Care to see the prettiest building in Times Square?

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How incredible is that?? It’s like the building was built yesterday:

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Seriously, compare the facade a year ago…

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…and the difference is nothing short of a miracle.

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The soot covering the building?

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Gone:

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The cracks in the marble?

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Repaired and polished:

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The bits filled in with concrete?

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Restored:

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And those statues? Comparing before and after, here we have Mary Pickford depicted in her title role as Little Lord Fauntleroy…

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Marilyn Miller in her title role as Sunny…

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Rosa Ponselle in Bellini’s Norma

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And finally, Ethel Barrymore (great aunt of Drew) as Ophelia, restoring both her first name and half her head:

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Ready for one more surprise? This was the Broadway side of the building a year ago…

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Here it is today:

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I love the new facade, which feels perfectly in step with the rest of the building. I’d love to know if any of it was actually discovered when the TGIF sign was removed:

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There’s one final addition: a gigantic new digital billboard over the building. In fact, this is fitting with the building’s history, considering the Broadway facade was always dedicated to billboards since the first Domino Sugar ads appeared in 1910:

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Of course, there’s only one sign I ever pay attention to – and it’s looking better than ever.

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To those responsible for bringing 1552 Broadway back to life, THANK YOU. I left Times Square that day with a big stupid smile on my face, and I’m smiling even now as I write this. Express, you’ve got the prettiest building in Times Square.

-SCOUT

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49 comments

  1. That is the happiest possible outcome. Congratulations to Express!

  2. LOVE this! Congrats to Express!

  3. What a cool story!

    I know this might be overreaching for this blog, but I’d love to hear the “why” behind this. What incentivized the building’s new owner (or Express?) to go to such great lengths (seriously – the statue repairs are excellent) when there’s no direct ROI? Was it simply love of art or something money-related – grants, etc.?

    I’m sure Scout’s letter/campaign and the building protection laws helped, but I doubt they would have generated such a high dollar and complete restoration.

    • After Times Square was closed to traffic, it quickly became one of the highest grossing retail locations in the nation. That attracts fashion companies like Limited, who want to be in a good-looking building.

      All from the simple act of closing the square to cars.

      • “All from the simple act of closing the Square to cars” – uh, not so fast, Greg, (Jan.6 at 5:05pm). Times Square already boasted the highest grossing retail locations in the nation. As a local, I’m just saying there is more than one side to shutting down Broadway to ALL vehicles, including NYPD, FDNY, Emergency and Ambulance. The resurgence of Times Square has been going on for about 20 years, along with tourism in NYC – even the tragic events of 9/11 barely slowed growing tourism. Unless you have the charts and graphs to support something that you happen to like, then you’re simply stating an opinion (that’s fine), but not a fact. Feel free to prove me wrong…please supply the numbers. Cheers, Tom

  4. Wow — this is great! It’s nice to see that a business took some incentive and did this. Congrats!

  5. Thank you for the update ScoutingNY! Congratulations to both you and Express!
    It is very refreshing to see a well cleaned, repaired historic building.
    It is nice to see and let’s hope this motivates others to take pride in the appearance and maintenance of their buildings.

  6. as you said to tweet at Express to do something good– going to tweet them my thanks and… make a visit!

  7. This looks great! But you’re leaving out one key factor in the restoration: the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The I. Miller Building is an Individual Landmark and thus had to get LPC permits to do all the restoration work. I doubt they would have done as thorough a job, if they’d have done it at all, without being required to get LPC permits and with the help and guidance of the LPC staff.

  8. I was in Times Square for the ball drop and noticed the statues on my way out, but then everyone was trying to go home and find a warm place after standing in the cold and I promised myself to go back and check it out one of these days. Great to see the restored pics compared to the sorry state from years past. Great job Express! Thanks ScoutingNY!

  9. I have always liked Express, now I will go out of my way to shop there. They did a huge thing to preserve this treasure in the Theater District

  10. The “new” front on Broadway really ties it all together. Very nice!!! Good luck on the new website layout.

  11. I swear, I had tears in my eyes while reading this, an expression of how happy I am that something was actually preserved rather than ripped down to make way for another high-rise. And yes I know this building was landmarked, but the developer-friendly Landmarks “Preservation” Committee currently in place would probably have okayed its destruction if the price were right. All of those bozos need to be booted by our new mayor in favor of people who care about the history of our architecture, not the developers’ bottom lines. Thanks, Scout, for the great news.

  12. I’m so glad that this story has a happy ending! It makes me proud to shop at Express!

  13. Express is the tenant of the newly restored property, the owner (a developer) was responsible for the restoration/reconstruction of the building’s exterior, which is an individual NYC Landmark. You can view the designation report here.

    http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1999IMillerBldg.pdf

  14. Thank you for the update! Let me just add that I looked at the Ethel Barrymore statue – is it me or does she have a resemblance to Drew Barrymore? I am sure you said she is her great grandmother in the previous post. But the mouth is very similar.

  15. OH BOY…I’m so glad they went through the effort to restore such a classic building.

    I couldn’t stand how much of an eyesore the TGIF sign was. And how badly they treated the building they were in.

  16. Yes, it’s true, the developers are responsible for the restoration, not the store. The historic preservation work was done by TPG Architecture on behalf of the building’s owners. And yes, it’s a landmark exterior that has been beautifully cleaned and restored!

  17. The Building owner did a wonderful job.
    The LPC parameters were exceeded by the consulting designers in everyway.
    The craftsmen did a wonderful job and were happy to restore this wonderful property for the landlord.

  18. It’s about time there is a happy ending to this wonderful building. In all my 58 years of living in NYC. I’ve finally seen good news about one of my all time favorite buildings!

  19. How nice to see good news coming from the developer front. Hats off to all involved. Maybe if we wish hard enough Thor Equities will grow a heart and see fit to treat Coney Island as the gem it should be instead of the cash cow they are grooming.

  20. My mother was shopping for shoes there when Garbo came in and watched mother pacing around trying the fit of a pair of golfing shoes. She announced that they looked good and she wanted a pair. (She had large, hard to fit feet). They fitted so well that she made the salesman fill the cleat holes with broken off matchsticks and walked out wearing them.
    They should have given mother a commission!

  21. This is beautiful! I’m moved – I teared up a little! It’s so rare to hear stories of restored or maintained historical buildings. I didn’t know about this building until today, but I’ll make sure to take a visit soon.

  22. Miguel Angel González

    Me parece fantástica la recuperación de tal edificación, lo que es lamentable es el aviso publicitario sobre la fachada de acceso y sobre su cubierta, finalmente al parecer en la arquitectura estadounidense aún prima el mercadeo y la utilización de grandes espacios para publicitar lo que genera una contaminación visual descontrolada.

  23. Oh my…I stay at Times Square…gee…my fave for over 20 years. You can’t see the trees for the forest of signs. I am absolutely astonished at these gems. I can’t wait to absorb this sight. Not to mention at age 71, I remember my mother wearing I. Miller shoes. The Manola of its time! What a treasure. What a story. Thank you from a Newyorkophile and Timessquareophile!

  24. Many thanks tons to get discussing this kind of operating persons you truly acknowledge what you’re really communicating roughly! Added. Remember to as well discuss with this site Means). We are going to use a weblink buy and sell agreement involving us

  25. The owner/developer should get the credit for hiring the best restorative architecture firm for this job: Jan Hird Pokorny’s office.

  26. When you leave Times Square with a smile, it’s a miracle. Beautiful job on this.

  27. I found more information that you might find interesting. Click on the link below.

    http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16266

    You were curious if they found the facade behind the TGIF sign…
    —-
    The Community Board 5 Calendar for October (2002) showed this application
    “For work on designated properties” submitted by Tobin + Parnes Design Enterprises:

    Installation of new two story Broadway storefront to replicate original building storefront; new storefront and windoow infill on 46th Street facade to replicate orignal elements; restoration of 46th Street facade including four statues and parapet; inistallatin of new awnings, blade sign, installation of two new roof mounted signs; reconstruction of existing roof mounted structural support for signage.
    —-

    I also love the part about…

    Mr. Miller released a public ballot to pick actresses in drama, musical comedy, opera and film. The winners were: Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia, Marilyn Miller as Sunny, Rosa Ponselle as Norma and Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy.
    Mr. Miller commissioned Alexander Sterling Calder to make these sculptures, which were unveiled on Oct. 20, 1929.

  28. amazing! looks great.

  29. How nice! I think that’s the building you see out the window of Mike’s office in “Pat and Mike” with Katharine Hepburn.
    Always a very pretty facade–lovely to see in renovated.

  30. WOW!! WOW!! Thats all I have to say..I remember when you posted the open letter and as a performing arts major, I was heartbroken. To this post today has definitely made me smile alot!! Thank you Express for giving this gorgeous building the respect it deserves!!

  31. Hello,

    Our firm, Conservation Solutions, inc, did the restoration of the statues. you can get more information on our website https://conservationsolutionsinc.com/projects/view/144/a-sterling-calder-sculpture-assessment-treatment-i-miller-building/

    I was the sculptor who recreated the mostly lost features of the actresses. I relied on the movie posters and other promotional material that the original sculptor A. Sterling Calder must have used as we found all of the figure’s poses were from these common popular images, many of which can be found on line.

    Yasmeen’s comment is very accurate. Drew Barrymore is from the famous Barrymore theatrical family and does resemble her great great aunt (i think) Ethel. We actually reached out to her asking if she would pose for the recreation but got no response regrettably.

    • I never thought they would survive , much less be bright back to their glory. Terrific work! A big New York Thank You for your superb work and of course to Scouting NY. It is often the smaller things that deliver lots of joy, so I can’t wait to see the restorations.

  32. Ah, this makes me so happy! I’ve been in love with that building since the moment I saw it! Good job, Express!

  33. Here is full credit for the team:
    TPG Architecture was honored to have been the architects of this building restoration on behalf of SL Green and Wharton Properties. We worked with an A+ team of preservation specialists including Higgins Quasebarth, who performed some of the original research; Conservation Specialists, who restored the existing sculptures; HLB Lighting, who designed the lighting; Jan Hird Pokorny, who served as the façade restoration consultant; Nichols & Galloway, the restoration contractor; and Plaza Construction, the construction manager. Like every successful project, a group of skilled and experienced experts worked in tandem to get it right and transform the building back to its former glory.

    • One more team member to note is Vertical Access. We performed the hands-on investigation of the facades of the I. Miller Building, almost exactly two years ago. We documented the existing conditions of the stuccoed brick facade on Broadway and the various materials on the West 46th Street, including the marble statues. North Shore Neon provided and operated the lift for the survey of the 46th Street facade; Site Safety LLC provided the ground support for the lift during the field work.

      We are also honored to have been part of such a successful building restoration.

  34. I. Miller was my great grandfather and shoes are my passion. The building has been brought back to what it was intended to be. It gave me great satisfaction to look at it, not only because it is my heritage but as a designer I love looking at beautiful architecture.
    Laura Miller

    • Deborah Miller

      Hi Laura,

      I am also the great granddaughter of Israel Miller – my father was Raymond Miller. I too have the love of shoes in my blood and very excited to see the wonderful job done to restore this piece of history…Deborah Miller

      • Richard Tyroler

        Wow!!!! Just came across this. So glad I did as I am also one of the Great Grandkids of I.Miller. My mom is going to be so happy that this landmark building has been restored. It’s so unfortunate that this brand which was a household name back in the early 1900’s has basically been forgotten. Thank you so much for this article and the awesome pictures!!! My wife and I actually own a children’s shoe store in Florida. Guess it’s in the blood :)

  35. To be moved by this is to know what it means to love your home town.

    Tears for me, cheers for everyone involved. I’m living elsewhere for the moment, but this bridge across time and space makes me proud, and very, very happy.

  36. As a retired production designer and a restoration fanatic I was truly moved by the beautiful work done by every one involved. I can’t wait to see this on my next visit.
    BRAVO.!

  37. Best possible solution is a miracle on Broadway-

  38. As a Fashion Designer who has worked in the fashion District for many years-right below Times Square- I am so thrilled to see that there’s still some dignity left to this monster that Times Square has become. (And a little bit proud that a fashion company -not a bank or a drugstore chain- is responsible for this work..)
    I love this city, and am all too happy to discover little gems through your blog.
    Thank you Scott for bringing us these wonderful stories again and again.

  39. Another proud project team member here. Our firm, Sensory Interactive, was responsible for the planning and design of the building’s LED video displays, including helping to shepherd them through the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approval process. The development team of SL Green Realty Corp and Wharton Properties deserves tremendous credit for seeing the value in the building’s architectural and cultural history, assembling a team of consultants that shared that vision, and then committing the resources required to actually bring it to life.

  40. First– Love your site! I stumbled upon it by accident while researching how many hospital beds Ellis Island had (which you conveniently supplied!). Haven’t been able to put it down since!

    To the point: This is fantastic news and made my day. This is also one of my favorite buildings in NY. I worked across the street at 1500 B’way for many years during the ’80s, and the building was in total disrepair even then. The soot was terrible (I’m sure it only got worse), and I could never understand how the owners could cover up/neglect the statues, which were, after all, part of B’way’s glorious past. Even then the marble was cracked, and filled in with concrete (I don’t remember Ethel’s head being cracked, but it’s possible, because she was so difficult to see). From previous posts, this was obviously not the doing of the prior tenant, TGIF. In fact, I think there was another tenant back in the 80s, but I can’t remember who. TGIF simply used the existing awning/signage space. Blame belonged to the previous owners. My congratulations to the new ownership, the NYC Landmarks Commission, and the numerous contractors for a job not only well done, but exceedingly well done. I never thought I’d see this.

    If only we had had this type of determination in the 60s and 70s, we’d still have shrines such as Penn Station, and theaters like the Roxy, Capitol and Strand.

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