IMG_1989 macy's

The big, red billboard next to Macy’s in Herald Square is a familiar site for most New Yorkers. It is so familiar that New Yorkers probably don’t notice that the billboard is actually a separate building not connected to Macy’s. Macy’s has never even owned that building which puts a notch in the corner of the department store. Today, we’ve pulled up vintage photographs from the Library of Congress that show evolution of that corner building and its gradual concealment, the result of an intense business rivalry and real-estate battle.

It all started in the 1890s when Macy’s relocated from 14th Street and 6th Avenue to 34th Street and Broadway. Secretly, Macy’s made plans to expand toward 35th Street. Rowland H. Macy, the department store’s owner, had a verbal agreement to pay Alfred Duane Pell $250,000 for the 1,154 square foot corner. All didn’t go according to plan when an agent of Henry Siegel, a partner of the Siegel-Cooper Dry Goods Store, found out about the tentative deal. He made Pell a $375,000 offer for the corner plot which Pell accepted.

1908. Photo from Library of Congress.

Surprisingly, Siegel didn’t purchase the land with the intention of putting up a billboard for his own store which competed with Macy’s. One documented plan is that Siegel was going to build a 12-story building devoted to the sale of women’s clothing. This plan wasn’t viable because the plot was too small to hold such a tall building. The realistic plan is that Siegel intended to purchase Macy’s old location on 14th Street and 6th Ave. He suggested giving up his corner plot to Macy’s if Macy’s relinquished their lease on their old store. Macy’s wasn’t swooned by Siegel’s deal because it was about to open a 1.6 million square foot store.

In 1903, a year after the huge Macy’s opened, Siegel razed the corner building and replaced it with a five-story structure which he leased to the United Cigar Store Company for $40,000 per year. It wasn’t until around 1945 that Macy’s began advertising on the structure which now holds the Macy’s “The World’s Largest Store” sign.

For more Untapped Macy’s, check out their famous wooden escalators  or a fun fact about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. See also the owls that used to be on the now demolished Herald Building, which you can still find in the square.