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R.H. Macy & Co. Bldg.

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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R.H. Macy & Co. Bldg.

Today, Macys is one of the largest clothing retailers in the nation. When talking about their history, Macys Inc. was quoted “No one would have guessed that the small, fancy dry goods store that opened on the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue in New York City in 1858 would grow to be one of the largest department store retailers in the world. “ Perhaps the phrase, Rome was not built in a day, mostly accurately describes the history of Macys.

Macys was founded by Rowland Hussey Macy. Failure was not new to Macy. He had a history of failed investments and business ventures, and success was not on his side. At the age of 36, Macy opened his fancy dry goods store on the corner 14th street and 6th Avenue in New York City.

The store’s red star logo was adopted by Macy as a symbol of success. This ideal dated back to Macy’s days as a sailor. On its first day, Macy’s store had a sales total of $11.06. The first day would discourage most, but Macy was not going to give up on his venture. His determination and leadership skills earned his store $90,000 dollars in gross sales in 1858. This would translate into over three million dollars per year today. The store continued to have success year after year. By 1880, the store had expanded down the block and covered ten store fronts.

If a business cannot keep up with the times, than it is destined to fail. Macy knew this, and made innovation his major priority. Macys was the leader in new ideas about how to handle retail. Macys was the first retailer to use the one price system. Macys offered and advertised the same price for their items to everyone. There were no preferences because of race or social status. A customer knew that they meant the same to Macys if they were looking to spend a thousand dollars or ten dollars. Products such as the Idaho baked potato, colored bath towels, and tea bags were first sold at Macys. Just as Macys believed all its customers were equal, so was true for their employees. Margaret Getchell was the first woman to be promoted to an executive position at a retail company, and Macys was who she worked for. Rowland Macy’s innovation placed Macys in the driver’s seat. Other companies were forced to try and copy Macys or fail.

As Macy’s sales continued to grow each year, the store one 14th street seemed to become smaller and smaller.  Rowland Macy decided it was time to expand, and ordered the construction of Macys Herald Square. The store was to be located on the intersection of 7th avenue and West 34th street. Macy knew that the store needed to be large enough to keep up with the rate at which Macys was growing.  The architect Theodore W.E. De Lemos and August W. Cordes were contracted to oversee construction of the building.


The picture displays the true beauty and magnitude of Macys Herald Square. At the time it was built, there were few buildings which matched its size, let alone department stores. People were attracted from all over the world to shop at Macys. Rowland Macy understood the impact which such a building could have on his business.













The architects De Lemos and Cordes understood the importance of the task they were contracted to complete. When deciding on how to build Macys Herald Square, they knew they needed to use the best materials available to them. New England was thought of as the quarry capital in the nation during the ninetieth and twentieth centuries.  Few quarries in New England had better stone than the granite found at Stony Creek. De Lemos and Cordes used such stone to complete the façade of the structure. As shown by the picture above, different types of stone are used to complement the hundreds of windows surrounding the building. Macys Herald Square has undergone many renovations, but most of the original stone façade still stands today.













In 1884 Theodore W.E. De Lemos and August W. Cordes became partners and started their own architecture firm. They focused their work in New York City, and the two were thought of as some of the top architects in the area from the late 1800s through the early twentieth century. Together they built some of the largest department stores and office buildings in New York City. Some of their works included the Siegel-Cooper building, Adams department stores, the Speyer & Company building, the Kuhn, Loeb & Company building, and the New York County National Bank buildings. The two were also involved in the building of New York’s Grand Central Palace and many country homes for wealthy New Yorkers. De Lemos was elected an Associate of the American Institute of Architects for his work, and the two remain some of the most respected architects in New York City’s history.






New York County National Bank Building



Macys continued to thrive over the years after Herald Square was built. By 1920, the company was generating an average of $36 million dollars in annual sales. Rowland Macy understood that the brand of Macys needed to expand beyond the northeast. In the early 1920s, Macys began to open stores in other regions. Macys went public in 1922. In 1923, the company bought out the competing Toledo department store, LaSalle & Kock. In 1924, Macys bought out the Atlanta based Davison-Paxton.

Although Macys began to expand all over the nation, customers still wanted to have the Herald Square experience. Just when people thought Rowland Macy could not go bigger, he exceeded all expectations.

In 1923, Rowland Macy contracted the famous architect, Robert Kohn, to head up the expansion of Herald square. Kohn, who was no stranger to designing large structures, exceeded all expectations. By its completion in 1924, Macys occupied almost the entire block of 7th Avenue on the west, Broadway on the east, 34th Street on the south and 35th Street on the north.  Kohn’s design made Macys Herald Square the largest department store in the world with over one million square feet.


Theodore De Lemos and August Cordes built Macys. Robert D Kohn turned their work into Macys Herald Square. Kohn’s first famous work was the Old New York Evening Post Building (1906–07), on Vesey Street, in New York City.  The building was known for its convex copper-framed windows. His next work was in Cleveland, Ohio where he designed the Tower Pres building. The beautiful building featured a 40 meter octagonal tower.  Kohn made his return to New York City when he constructed the hall for the Society for Ethical Culture on Central Park West and 64th Street, 1911. Upon completing the hall, Kohn focused on small private contracts for prominent New Yorkers. His next great work was his renovation to Macy’s in 1924. It seems fitting that a high profile architect like Kohn be commissioned for such an important contract. After Kohn’s renovation and additions to DeLemos and Cordes’ work, Macys Herald Square became the largest department store in the world and a national icon.  While working on Macys, Kohn also refined the neoclassical limestone faced department store for the retailer A.I. Namm & son. Kohn then went on to team with architect Clarence S. Stein in the Bronx to build the Fieldston School in 1926. Kohn than went on to build temples around the city for Reform Jewish congregations of New York. He is best known for building the Congregation Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue in 1929. The beauty of this work, as well as the other works in his portfolio, led to his election of the President of the American Institute of Architects in 1930. He served as president for a term of two years. This honor helped make him the most respected architect of his time. He continued to build lesser known temples, schools, and homes around the city until his death in 1953.



Temple Emanu- El in New York City


The expansion of Herald square was not the only important part of Macy’s 1924. During the fall of 1924, Macy’s immigrant employees organized a Christmas day Parade to celebrate their new American Heritage.  The celebration included floats, animals, bands, and had 10,000 spectators its first year. Rowland Macy saw how important the celebration was to his employees, and agreed to make it a tradition. That tradition became the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, held annually at Herald square. Many children’s favorite moments were of watching the giant balloons at the parade and being a part of the celebrations downtown. The parade is televised every year on one of the major networks, and is one of Macy’s greatest sources of publicity.

The years after 1924 saw Macy’s continual growth and expansion. In 1945, Macys expanded west.  The company purchased the major San Francisco department store O’Connor and Moffat. One of the most important events that aided in Macy’s western expansion was their flower show in 1946. The flower show started as a way to promote Macy’s cosmetic department. Today, the flower show is an annual spring tradition in California stores. Macy’s next major decision was to convert the basement of their Union Square store into “the Cellar”, where customers could find all of their home goods. The success of Union’s cellar made it a model for Macy’s stores around the country.

R.H. Macy & Co. continued to grow and expand until the company was acquired by Federated Department Stores, Inc.  The brand name of Macys was so strong that Federated Department Stores, Inc. changed their name to Macy’s Inc., by which the company is still known today.  Over the years leading up to 2010, the company went on to take over almost all of their competition. Some of the major department store chains acquired by Macy’s Inc were A&S department stores in 1995, Jordan Marsh Department stores in 1997, Stern’s in 2001, and Liberty House of Hawaii and Guam in 2001 and 2002. By 2006, Macy’s Inc. owned more than 800 stores in every major market in the United States. Today, they maintain a constant of about 1,000 stores, and serve the public via their website.

Bing Birds Eye View


Google Earth Place Mark

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Last Updated on Sunday, 07 November 2010 21:47  


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