163 West 72nd Street

View of 163 West 72nd Street taken from south along West 72nd Street; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

Fewer Storeys, More Character

by Tom Miller

The high-stoop, four-story house at 163 West 72nd Street was one of ten erected in 1884 when the neighborhood was filling with refined residences.  By the outbreak of World War I, things had changed and West 72nd Street was increasingly becoming a commercial thoroughfare.  In 1917, the New York Conservatory of Music moved into the former home and would remain for years.

The first years of the Great Depression saw further change.  Many of the once-grand homes had by now sprouted storefronts where their stoops and parlors had been or were being demolished and replaced by modern structures.  In 1929, the house at 163 West 72nd Street was demolished, and architect Oscar Goldschlag was hired by owner Carl W. Stern to design a replacement structure.

It is possibly the shaky economic conditions that resulted in the new building’s being just two stories tall.  Luckily for Stern, even as it was still being erected, he found a tenant.  On July 27, 1929 The New York Times reported that he had leased it “for twenty years to Hyman & Co., members of the New York Stock Exchange, for their West Side branch offices.” 

It is possibly the shaky economic conditions that resulted in the new building’s being just two stories tall.  Luckily for Stern, even as it was still being erected, he found a tenant. 

Goldschlag’s completed design was a toned-down version of the Art Deco style—again no doubt due partly to the financial depression.  But while it lacked the jazzy lightning bolt motifs and stark contrast of materials and colors New Yorkers had come to expect, it was nonetheless a sleek and handsome expression of the style.  The stone façade embraced a single large arch.  The expanses of glass of the first and second floors were separated by three panels of veined stone, the two end sections graced with blind roundels.  A stepped parapet rose to uphold a flagpole.

Despite its two-decade lease, Hyman & Co. would not stay in the building especially long.  Another brokerage firm, the newly formed Mallory, Eiseman & Co., opened a branch office here in 1933.  Its formal opening was held on July 10.

Following Mallory, Eiseman & Co., James D. Dellanis signed a 10-year lease.  On September 4, 1940 The New York Times reported he would convert it to a restaurant and cabaret. 

At mid-century the ground floor was home to a Singer Sewing Machine Center.  The phenomenal success of the Singer company was due, in part, to ground-breaking innovations in the 19th century.  They included installment plans and the acceptance of trade-ins for new, upgraded machines.  These were still in force in 1951 when an advertisement in the Daily News announced a sale on used Singer sewing machines with a “down payment as low as $5.00” and the balance on “budget terms.” 

The upper section was leased to small businesses like Arthur Weiner’s real estate office in the 1960’s and to Gordon Lee Enterprises, Inc. in the 1980’s.  The latter firm published Distinctively You in 1984, a book on Black men’s grooming.

The Singer showroom would remain in the first floor for decades while the upper section was leased to small businesses like Arthur Weiner’s real estate office in the 1960’s and to Gordon Lee Enterprises, Inc. in the 1980’s.  The latter firm published Distinctively You in 1984, a book on Black men’s grooming.

Around 1995 both floors were leased to the General Nutrition Center.  It was possible then that the storefront was remodeled.  Thankfully the handsome stone panels between the floors was preserved and, overall, the understated 1929 structure survives little changed.


Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com

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