The middle of the 19th century saw an influx of wealthy New Yorkers moving north of Washington Square. To cater to this growing population, lavish new developments began to spring up around Union Square. Gothic Revival religious institutions such as the James Renwick-designed Grace Church and the Richard Upjohn-designed Church of the Ascension served as local landmarks. For the more informal daily routines of wealthy women, stately department stores became the trend. Often known as dry goods stores (to distinguish their goods from those carried in hardware and grocery stores), these large shopping meccas also served as social gathering places where women could mingle with their peers, have lunch, and, of course, spend money. The original Macy’s store was located on 14th Street and the A.T. Stewart store was on East 10th Street and Broadway. Another important retail presence was James McCreery & Co.
In 1869, James McCreery & Co. Dry Goods opened its doors. Previously, Mr. James McCreery was employed by Ubsdell, Pierson & Lake, a department store located on Broadway and Grand Streets. He worked his way up to become a partner in the company. Upon Lake’s retirement in 1867, the company was renamed James McCreery & Company. He then commissioned a new store on Broadway and 11th Street that would come to be known as one of the nation’s most esteemed dry goods stores. The building was designed by architect John Kellum, known for his work in the new medium of cast-iron. His reputation stemmed in part from his design of the A.T. Stewart Department Store. The James McCreery & Co. building occupied a large lot fronted by both Broadway and 11th Street. Both façades were cast-iron from the foundry of J. B. & W. W. Cornell Ironworks. The Italianate/French Second Empire style exemplified the extravagant goods housed inside, namely the luxurious silks unavailable elsewhere.
Around 1895, McCreery followed the department store trend up to “Ladies’ Mile,” 6th Avenue between 14th and 23rd Streets, when he opened his second store on 6th Avenue and 23rd Street. According to CastIronNYC.org, “McCreery sold the [11th Street] building to the Methodist Book Concern and Missionary Society and leased back space in the lower floors; McCreery repurchased the building in 1889. James McCreery & Co. remained in the building until 1902. By 1910 the original mansard roof had been replaced….and the storefront housed Fleischman’s Restaurant.” The upper floors were occupied by factories that produced suits, shoes, and leather wares.
In 1971, a fire, begun in one of the factories, destroyed the interior of the building. Thanks to the cast-iron construction, though, the façade was left unscathed. The following year, the building was purchased by the Elghanayan brothers. As noted by Daytonian in Manhattan, “When their intentions to demolish the remaining shell and erect a high-rise apartment building in its place were announced, the community protested. Residents rallied along with the Friends of Cast Iron and community groups, appearing before the Board of Appeals. The Board granted variances that made renovating the existing structure to residential use economically feasible.” This project became an early example of a commercial building converted to residential. During the adaptation, the mansard roof was removed and two stories were added. It was renamed the Cast Iron Building. There are 144 apartments, none of which are identical. The building is currently calendared for landmark designation.