3. B. Altman and Company

illustration of B. Altman
B. Altman and Company. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia user Taterian

Founded in 1865 by Benjamin Altman, known today for donating his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art upon his death, B. Altman and Company was a luxury department store and chain. The company began operating out of the East Village at 10th Street and Third Avenue before relocating to 621 Sixth Avenue into a neo-Grec building designed by David and John Jardine. By 1906, B. Altman and Company had opened its flagship location at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue — becoming the first big department store to move from the highly popular “Ladies Mile” shopping district to Fifth Avenue. Designed by Trowbridge & Livingston in an Italian Renaissance style, the new building was created to blend in with surrounding palatial mansions. B. Altman and Company also came to be one of the first American department stores to open out-of-town branches in suburban settings, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio.

The downfall of B. Altman began in 1987 when the Australian real estate development company L. J. Hooker and its chief executive officer George Herscu purchased the company’s controlling interest. Herscu then used this interest to build extravagant but poorly located shopping centers across the country, eventually causing B. Altman to file for bankruptcy in August 1989. By the end of 1990, all of the company’s branches were shuttered.

B. Altman’s Manhattan location remained abandoned until 1996, when the exterior was restored by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer and the interior reconfigured by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. Today, the building’s Fifth Avenue side is used by the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, and the Madison Avenue side was once used by the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry, and Business Library. For fans of the hit television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the store is featured when Midge Maisel takes a job on the shop floor.