This week, we continue our series of deep dives into the histories of storied addresses.
At the northeast corner of Broadway and Bond stands a most imperial structure. In 1874, when Brooks Brothers opened its newest location at this address, the New York Times declared 670 Broadway to be “an ornament to the street.” Four years later, the noted architect Rev. Dr. Samuel Osgood called it “the finest business edifice in New York.”
To be sure, the Victorian Gothic building, designed by architect George E. Harney, is conspicuously grand. The AIA Guide to New York City describes its Eastlake details and “romantic rose brick and granite commercial structure.”
Although it is a mere five stories high, its bulky presence occupies nearly half a city block, on both the Broadway and Bond Street sides. Its aesthetic flourishes, its dressed brickwork, its dominant shades of deep clay red— accented by dots of browner brick— and its general grandiosity, make it a particularly conspicuous presence when compared with its neighbors.
Since 2015, the building has housed a high-end gym, one of Equinox’s 36 Manhattan locations. But where New Yorkers now work out, they once worked 70-hour weeks. The building at 670 Broadway, or “Zero Bond Street,” used to be a factory—albeit a very fancy one. And the property itself has a very American story, as a parcel of glorified farmland.
The site at block 530/Lot 1 was originally part of the Elbert Herring Farm, a spread of some 100 acres that extended from the Bowery, near what’s now Great Jones Street, over to Christopher Street.
The early Herrings appear to have been a well-off family even before they arrived in New York. A Pieter Janszen Haring (b. 1610) left the Netherlands and emigrated to New Amsterdam sometime shortly after the birth of his son, Jan, in 1633.
The Herrings ultimately benefited from land grants that were originally allotted by the Dutch West India Company, which included land in Manhattan that came to be known as the Herring Farm.
Elbert Herring, born in New York in 1706, had at least 12 children with his wife, Catherine Lent. Following the patriarch’s death in 1773, the land would “remain in limbo” for the duration of the War of 1776 as Elbert’s son and executor, Abraham, along with other Herrings, was forced to abandon any claim to Manhattan for a time and leave the city. The land, as it happened, was located firmly in British territory, and selling it would have amounted to support for the crown.
Abraham was widely regarded as “a sincere and warm Friend to the Liberties and Independence of the United States of America,” and Judd writes that he devised a proposal by which Abraham would endeavor to sell his lands to British Loyalists— “about fifteen hundred pounds worth of real estate lying within the enemies (sic) lines”— on the condition that he would then invest the profits from such a sale into the purchase of uniforms for patriot forces.
Although Abraham was granted approval from the war committee assigned with reviewing his plea, Judd writes that such an arrangement “apparently never took place,” as there are no land records indicating any conveyance of the property during the war years.
After the war, however, Abraham wasted no time in settling his father’s estate. As Judd explained, five months after the war ended, the 100-acre farm was sold to Abraham for the current-day equivalent of $841,000 and distributed to heirs with names like Haring, Kip, De Peyster, Samuel Jones, Gardner Jones, and Roosevelt. For Abraham, “amicable division of the property meant good relations” with his in-laws. He retained some of the land for himself, and sold a portion of it to the City, which used the land, now Washington Square Park, as a burial ground for indigents.
Abraham used the proceeds from his land sales to invigorate his commercial activities, and he proved to be especially adept at leveraging his father’s land to advance his family’s position in New York society. The Herrings “seized and realized the opportunities opening up before them with results unprecedented in the family history,” Judd writes. He notes that, in the first city directory in 1789, Abraham’s occupation was listed as flore, a trader in flour, but that by 1791, the same directory listed him as mer, for merchant, which was a particularly “prestigious denotation” at the time.
Alongside other rising New York families, the Herrings seemed to be “living out Washington’s 1783 expectation ‘of the progressive refinements of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment,’” Judd writes.
By 1822, much of the family land had been sold and resold to individuals who were increasingly distant from the Herring clan. Still, the legacy of Abraham Herring was not forgotten. His obituary, which appeared in the New York Evening Post in January 1837, noted that the 82-year-old had “lived to see the almost magical changes the city has undergone, and was a most conspicuous representative of the old Dutch stock, its original founders.”
For a number of reasons, the site at 670 Broadway, as well as its environs, seemed destined to be forever associated with New York’s wealthiest citizens. In fact, in 1810, John Jacob Astor purchased two nearby lots of Herring land.
Eighty years later, “The Only Four Hundred” list compiled by Ward McAllister of New York’s most notable names included nine families that had owned property derived from the Herring Farm. McAllister himself was a nephew of Samuel Ward, a prominent banker in New York, who built the initial mansion at 670 Broadway. McAllister’s1890 memoir, Society as I Have Found It, giddily recounts the lavish exploits and decorum of New York’s wealthiest residents; the book caused such an outrage amongst elites that it effectively destroyed McAllister’s reputation and established him as perhaps the earliest of forerunners to Norman Podhoretz.
In 1807, the Herring plots were formally divided into block and lot numbers, as the city grid began to take shape, and 670 Broadway, made its inaugural appearance in the city’s conveyance records in 1810, when Samuel and Cornelia Jones sold the property to a Mr. Lemuel Wells.
In 1826, McAllister’s uncle bought the property, and in 1842, the heirs of Sam Ward either sold or leased to Joseph Sampson lots 1 and 3 of block 530, effectively merging 670, 672, and 674 Broadway into a single unit. An identical transaction between the same participants appears three years later, in 1845.
The records from this point get spotty, but we know that the Sampson home was “the rendezvous of the wealthy set in the fifties,” according to a New York Times article from 1893. A Valentine’s Manual of Old New York, published in 1917, noted that the entrance of “The Corner,” as the Ward family called it, was on Bond Street. Adjoining it on the Broadway side was a “windowless house” which was “the picture gallery of Samuel Ward, built to shelter his art collection, the first private building erected for such a purpose in America.”
This “famous house built by Samuel Ward in the days of his banking glory,” as it was described in The Old Merchants of New York City (1885), was a society home to be sure. It was a physical and prominent demonstration of the types of wealth (and inequalities) that could be realized in America’s burgeoning commercial capital.
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Joseph Sampson was the son of a minister, but he would ultimately emerge in adulthood as one of the “merchant princes of the city,” anointed as such by the New York Herald in 1870. He made a fortune in New York, but only after he got his start as an apprentice with Boggs & Livingston, an auction house, and then became a founding shareholder of Chemical Bank, a corporation that began in 1823 as a manufacturer of chemicals before it ventured, one year later, into the more lucrative banking industry. Over the years, it developed into a financial behemoth that would one day acquire, then rebrand itself as J.P. Morgan Chase.
According to the 1913 History of the Chemical Bank, Joseph Sampson purchased the mansion from Ward’s descendants, in 1845, for $70,000 ($2.2 million today). At the time, John Jacob Astor remarked that “he did not know that there was anyone in New York who could afford to pay such a price for a residence.” The history adds that “Mr. Sampson had not only the satisfaction of living in the finest of houses, but in one which increased continuously in value to the day of his death.”
After Joseph Sampson died in 1872, his daughter, Adele Livingston Sampson Stevens, inherited the bulk of her father’s estate, which included the property at Broadway and Bond.
In spite of a widespread consensus regarding the home’s prominence, and its value as an investment, the mansion was not immune to broader trends of the day in New York real estate. The wealthiest of New Yorkers were continuing to move uptown, and commercial structures were supplanting the palatial residences that had once been indispensable in the area around Union Square and Broadway. As the 1917 Valentine’s Manual notes, “in 1873 the house was razed to make way for a commercial structure.”
But Adele Sampson Stevens continued to own the property. She had married Frederik Stevens in 1862 at St. Bartholomew’s— the congregation that today functions as a major hub for the city’s homeless— and at the time of Joseph Sampson’s death, the young husband and wife were just beginning to build their own mansion, which would be completed in 1876 as “the most expensive house ever built in this city.” It was located on 57th Street, in what was “at that time called pre-eminently the aristocratic quarter of the city.” (It would eventually be sold to the Whitney’s). And so Adele Stevens— who was “not pretty, but very chic,” per the New York Times in 1903— had no apparent, personal need to maintain her childhood home.
So, just a little more than a year after Joseph Sampson’s death, and a few months after the demolition of his late residence, The New York Times reported that the construction of “a magnificent building is in course of erection for the occupancy of Brooks Brothers” at 670, 672, and 674 Broadway.
Twice before, Messrs. Brooks, who made uniforms for presidents and for the men sent to war by presidents, had cleared space for their factories. In 1857, commenting on the construction of the label’s first major store, the New York Evangelist noted that “the corner of Grand Street, through to Crosby, will be demolished, and a magnificent pile erected by Brooks & Brothers, for a great clothing emporium.” Less than 20 years after that, Brooks Brothers moved further north to Union Square. The new space at 670 Broadway was yet another effort to keep pace with shifts in residential and commercial migration.
As tenants of Adele Stevens, the Brooks family paid an annual $60,000 in rent ($1.2 million today). She had the building constructed to her tenant’s specifications and aesthetic preferences.
In August of 1873, the New York Times reported that the building would be made of “hard quarry stone and brick, and the walls three feet in thickness.” It took less than a year to complete construction. A New York Times article later that year noted that “externally it is an ornament to the street, and its internal arrangements are of the most perfect kind.”
And so, nearly a century after Abraham Herring had offered to sell his father’s land and finance the production of patriot uniforms, a portion of that land had now come to be occupied by a company which, in addition to offering “such elegancies as smoking-jackets, dressing-downs, [and] smoking-caps,” was also a major (and occasionally fraudulent) supplier of military uniforms. In fact, the early years of Brooks Brothers is more than a story of how one company has supplied suits to dozens of U.S. presidents since Lincoln; it’s also a tale of an ambitious family business, a business that used to manufacture special clothing for slaves then, years later, sold glued-together rags as uniforms to thousands of Union soldiers during the Civil War.
While there were never riots at 670 Broadway, nor any major scandals over military contracts, there were certainly labor disputes, which began in 1876, when twelve of the retailer’s tailors, who were striking over wage disputes, were arrested for allegedly pressuring other workers to refuse to work there as well.
John F. Brooks ultimately chose not to press charges against the employees, although it was never really clear what laws they had actually violated, and yet almost all of the men, after a few nights in jail, were fined $10 and released on $500 bail; defeated, they agreed to return to work at Brooks Brothers for lower wages than before, without receiving any written commitment that their employer would abide by the agreed upon pay scale.
By 1883, Brooks Brothers had vacated the building, and the new tenant, Louis M. Hornthal, also a clothing merchant, would experience his own set of labor conflicts with his garment workers, including a series of strikes in the 1880s, and a lock-out in 1890— whereby Hornthal, as vice-president of a manufacturers’ trade group, helped organize 80 manufacturers in the city who all pledged to deny employment to any member of a labor union, which amounted to an overnight dismissal of more than 30,000 people.
Reporting on this lock-out in July of 1890, which included the workers at Hornthal’s factory, the New York Times discussed “the miserable workers who are trying to free themselves from abject slavery.” There was another strike in 1897.
In fact, the site at 670 Broadway, as a garment factory, would continue to witness sporadic labor conflict well into the mid-20th century. Noted labor suits were lodged in the 1940s and there was a a walk-out in 1958 during the citywide cap strike (the factory had since become a millinery, and Herman H. Barrie, by now the proprietor at 670 Broadway, was also president of the Empire State Cap and Cloth Hat Manufacturers Association, which meant that, like Hornthal before him, he was a leading voice for manufacturers during the labor conflict).
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The ownership of the property eventually passed from Adele Livingston Sampson to a trust assigned to handle her estate. (By the time of her death in 1912, Adele had reverted to her maiden name after her divorce from Frederik Stevens, as well as her divorce from the Marquis de Talleyrand, a duke she had married after Stevens to become the Duchess of Dino.)
The United States Trust Co. of New York eventually sold 670 Broadway to Thalia Management Corp., and after a brief stint with Sears and Epstein, and then a hat manufacturer in the 1950s and ‘60s, F.D.R. Industries, Inc. purchased it in 1971.
The president of F.D.R. Industries for most of the ensuing 40 years was Jay Deutsch, whose daughter’s wedding announcement was listed in the New York Times in 1992; this is all to say that, even when 670 Broadway was home to a Reebok (1991), or Broadway Bargain House (1916), or a plot of farmland “in the country” of Manhattan (1700s), over a span of more than 200 years, the various owners of the property have consistently been well-off.
F.D.R. Industries sold 670 Broadway in 2015 to Paramount for $112 million dollars, and Paramount then leased the site to Equinox after extensive renovations.
The interior still has a staircase in the center, and the cellar, now the coat-check and the locker room, has retained its bricked archways. There are 18-foot columns in the lobby and near the treadmills, and there is a juice bar, and a retail shop that sells $90 t-shirts.
The building has, in a sense, been restored to its original purpose as a locale committed to the manicuring of a certain group of New Yorkers; it is unknown, as of yet, whether there has been an accompanying resurgence of labor discontent.
The property’s history is a tale of opportunity, good fortune, hard work, and extravagance, but it is also a story of unfair advantages, hostility to unions, and grossly unequal distributions of power. The current building initially thrived in an era where business titans often claimed the mantle of American patriotism while simultaneously mistreating their American workers. Now mistreatment is likely to be self-inflicted at the hands of a trainer.