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UPDATED New York City's 620 Sixth Avenue: An Architectural Grand Dame, Dressed Up as a Discount Store

Updated on February 18, 2016
620 Sixth Avenue, as it appeared when it opened in 1896.
620 Sixth Avenue, as it appeared when it opened in 1896.

New York City's skyline is always a work in progress. Buildings go down, new icons rise from the rubble. Between visits to America's flagship city, favorite haunts can become haunting memories.

The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Lincoln Center, Freedom Tower, the Flatiron Building: those enduring tourist icons are international symbols. Beneath these architectural heavyweights are dozens of lesser known edifices.

At the junction of Flatiron and Chelsea, there's a whopper. 620 Sixth Avenue (see photo, below) is an architectural masterpiece that, inside at least, literally a shadow of its former self.

The Shadows of Time Have Taken their Toll...
The Shadows of Time Have Taken their Toll...

One Block, One Building

Amid architectural masterpieces in various stages of glory, restoration, transition and decay, few are more visible than 620 Sixth Avenue. Once home to the world's largest department store, now occupied by Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Bed, Bath & Beyond...and a lot of underutilized space.

Majestic columns, before...
Majestic columns, before...
...and after.
...and after.
The grand entrance isn't so grand.
The grand entrance isn't so grand.
The Grand Entrance, at the Building's Grand Opening.
The Grand Entrance, at the Building's Grand Opening.

For a Time, The Biggest Store in the World

Ground was broken for the Siegel-Cooper Dry Goods Store back in 1895. When it opened two years later, it was the biggest store in the world. It was also first steel-framed department store in New York City (and not a bad place to be if there's an earthquake today).

620 Sixth Avenue has, through World Wars and the age of the automobile, retained much its stately exterior, marred by garish signage on the ground floor.

A Few Glory Years...Early in the Life of an Exceptional Building

Glory faded quickly: Siegel-Cooper, an anchor for the now forgotten shopping district dubbed "Ladies' Mile", closed in 1917. Since then, this 700,000 square foot building has been home to a glorified warehouse, a social service agency, and now, a hodgepodge of national retail chains.

620 is the architectural equivalent of the girl in high school who, for a few precious years, created a hormonal wake when she strutted passed by the boy's locker room. Now she's emotionally damaged, struggling with bad taste and patchy makeovers.

The beauty of things that were once glorious is always tinged with pathos.

Heavy Lidded During the Day,

Third Floor View of The Container Store, Across the Street
Third Floor View of The Container Store, Across the Street

Better at Night.

The image above this one was taken inside the building, on the right.
The image above this one was taken inside the building, on the right.

700,000 Square Feet X $60 per sq. foot =RXR profit?

In 2012, Scott Rachler's RXR Real Estate Co. acquired 620 Sixth Avenue, at the cusp of a neighborhood boom. The Flatiron Building, Madison Park, Eataly, the Highline, galleries, a ridiculously popular Trader Joe's and other destination retailers and restaurants are within a few blocks.

The Commercial Observer posted on their website a couple of years ago, "RXR has been marketing the building’s top two floors, six and seven, which together total about 150,000 square feet, for rents over $60 per square foot, a rate that would have been unthinkable at the property only a few years ago."

I'm guessing RXR is asking for more money per square foot these days.


You Wouldn't Recognize the Place Today

The Original Floorplan of 620 Sixth Avenue (black dots are columns).
The Original Floorplan of 620 Sixth Avenue (black dots are columns).
Bed Bath & Beyond, Today
Bed Bath & Beyond, Today

Post Your NYC Building Picture Below

Pull out your smartphone and snap a picture of a lesser known NYC architectural treasure. If you like, include your idea of 'best use' for the building.

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    • Jack Burden profile image

      Jack Burden 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Looks like a great space - Shame it can't be better utilized.