6th Avenue between West 17th and 23rd Streets is known as the Ladies’ Mile, after the gigantic emporiums such as the Siegel-Cooper Building (now home to Bed, Bath and Beyond) and the original B. Altman Building that can be found on both sides of the street, attracting shoppers from all over the metropolitan area, that were built during the first 2 decades of the 20th Century.
Elsewhere on 6th Avenue, though, are remaining buildings from an even earlier era, from when 6th Avenue was first developed in the 1840s and 1850s. I have worked off and on in the area since the 1980s, and when I first arrived, the original Ladies’ Mile era was over — the big stores had moved uptown, the huge buildings had fallen into disrepair and decrepitude, and the region was home to garment wholesalers. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the cycle moved around again and the huge buildings again became home to large retail establishments.
One of the oldest remaining buildings on the stretch is the Limelight Marketplace, built in 1844 at 6th Avenue and West 20th as the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion by famed architect Richard Upjohn. Of course many New Yorkers remember it in the 1980s and 1990s as a disco/drug supermarket.
A charming cluster of 4-story buildings can be found on the east side of 6th Avenue north of the Limelight between West 20th and 21st Streets. According to real estate records, they were built around 1850, in the years following the coming of the Episcopal Church to the area. In the middle is #666 6th, something of an ironic number considering the proximity of the old church.
A pair of pressed metal signs can be found on the pediment and above the second floor, noting the former Bazar Français and its owner, Charles R. Ruegger, which I imagine was pronounced “roo=ZHAY.” Though 1929 seems a little past the area for such signage, here’s a wonderfully preserved sample of the art.
In March 1929 Ruegger purchased the building from Samuel and Nettie Lichtman. The Times reported that “It is to be extensively altered and occupied by Mr. Ruegger for his business of hotel, club and restaurant equipment.” Among the alterations was the removal of the unsightly fire escape to the rear of the building.
Around this time Ruegger opened a shop nearby on 19th Street for the manufacture industrial metal such as ducts and ventilators. The 78-year old Charles Ruegger died in 1931. He had not only created a successful business in the Bazar Francais but was mayor of Woodridge, New Jersey, for two consecutive terms. His son, Charles Jr., continued running the business.
After World War II the firm would produce its own line of copper and brass cookware. The Bazar Francais continued to offer imported kitchen ware as well as its own high-end goods, becoming the first gourmet outlet in the country. Along with small items like butter brushes, the firm offered decorative and hard-to-find articles like the 1956 nickel-plated wine rack “that completes the apartment dweller’s suburban-scorning life.”
Bazar Français closed in 1975 but the signs are still on the building, as well as one more additional artifact…
The “Bazar Français” painted ad on the north side of #668 is still there, a testament to the paint quality as well as only a few hours in the sun each day.
Between West 21st and West 22nd, there are a group of buildings of varying height, many of which are occupied by fast food joints. These two probably go back to the same era as the Ruegger building.
Finally, a look at one of my favorite buildings in the stretch, the old Ehrich Brothers Emporium on the west side of 6th between West 22nd and 23rd, that is festooned with my favorite letter in the alphabet on three sides in pressed metal and tile lettering, the type used in subway signage.
As explained on this FNY page, the K’s date to the era when the building was owned by Chicago merchants J.L. Kesner Company, who hired architects Taylor and Levi to add all the letter K’s in 1911. However Kesner was only in the building until 1913!