2521-2523 Broadway

View of 2521-2523 Broadway from east; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

The Healy Building

by Tom Miller

At the end of World War I, Thomas Healy was a well-known restauranteur with several locations.  In April 1917, he leased the former Astor Market at the southwest corner of Broadway and 95th Street and added another, the Sunken Galleries restaurant in the lower level, with the Crystal Carnival Ice Rink above it.  The ice rink did not last long, however, and in 1918 Healy converted it into the Symphony Theatre, a silent movie venue.

Eugene Higgins owned the property at the northwest corner of Broadway and 94th Street, next door.  Thomas Healy struck a deal with him in 1920.  He leased the property and, together with Higgins, hired architect and engineer George A. Dugan to design a three-story store and office building on the site.  Completed the following year, the Healy Building was architecturally unremarkable.  Dugan’s expertise as an engineer far outshone his abilities as an architect in this structure.

Two stores opened onto Broadway and stretched the length of the building.  Upstairs, vast expanses of glass flooded the offices with natural light.  Among the first tenants within the upper floors were branch offices of two brokerage firms, Hall & Co., and J. D. Sugarman & Co.

The corner store quickly became home to Mollie Herskovitz, a women’s apparel store.  An advertisement touted, “Artistic Gowns & Suits that are not duplicated by everyone you see.”  By 1926 it was occupied by Broadway Radio Engineers, a shop that not only sold but repaired radios.  Within four years, that store was replaced by a similar shop, Walthal’s.  One of eight Walthal branches in Manhattan, it sold everything from radio batteries and tubes to cabinet radios, which were pieces of furniture.  A “golden voiced Atwater Kent” floor model was on sale in November 1930 for $89.25, marked down from $119.  (The sale price would be equal to about $1,450 in 2023 money.)

Dugan’s expertise as an engineer far outshone his abilities as an architect in this structure.

In January 1932, architect Raymond Irrera (who had just designed renovations to the Symphony Theatre building next door), filed plans to convert portions of the two upper floors of 2521-2523 Broadway for manufacturing purposes.  Following the renovations, the Pocket Brassiere Co., Inc. moved its operation into the building.

Thomas Healy died in 1927.  Six years later, Eugene Higgins leased the Healy Building to Symphony Properties. Inc., of which John W. Springer was president.  Not surprisingly, given the name of the firm, Springer also owned the Symphony Theatre—one of a chain of theaters he operated.  He moved his offices onto the second floor of the Healy Building and hired architect William I. Hohaus to renovate the second floors of both buildings, including a direct connection between Springer’s office and the theater.

Directly next door to Springer’s office were the insurance offices of Katsh Brothers & Co., operated by Chauncey J. and Joseph I. Katsh.  Coincidentally, Joseph Katsh and John W. Springer were already good friends, having met during their service in the United States Army during World War I.

Springer died in September 1936.  As explained by Joseph I. Katsh in court later, “Because of my intimacy with John W. Springer and the proximity of our offices, I was quite familiar with his business affairs and therefore…I was requested by his mother, Cora A. Springer, to undertake the actual operation of certain of the motion picture theatres in which she was interested.”  Among them was the Symphony Theatre.  Katsh juggled selling insurance and running motion picture theaters until the Springer estate sold them off around 1939.  Katsh Brothers & Co. remained in the building at least through 1941.

In the post-Prohibition years, 2523 Broadway was a tavern.  By 1952 it was run by Keever Wallach and Max Handel as the Wallach & Handel Bar.  The corner store was a grocery store, Broadway Food.

Instead of manufacturing and insurance or brokerage offices, the upper floor offices began seeing organizations as tenants in the second half of the century.  Among the first was the Agudas Israel World Organization, here in 1949.  It was closely followed by the Research Institute for Post-War Problems of Religious Jewry, which had space in 1953.  The American Jewish Yearbook explained it “Engages in research and publishes studies concerning the situation of religious Jewry and its problems all over the world.”

Before 1971 a branch office of the NAACP was in the Healy Building.  The sketchy conditions of the neighborhood caused trepidation among some members.  At a conference on “Crime: The Police and the People” at Tavern-on-the-Green on October 22, 1971, William J. Greene complained that at the Broadway branch members were too afraid to attend night meetings.  “We hold them at 5 or 6 o’clock now so people can get home before it gets too dark,” he said.  The branch would remain in the building for several years, nonetheless.

The students and instructors were forced to flee when a fire broke out on the ground floor.

Music publisher Benjamin Blom, Inc. rented an office from 1977 through 1981. Other upstairs tenants were the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation and the Briansky Dance Center.  The corner store was home to Sabbson’s Variety Stores at the time.

At 7:30 on the evening of May 25, 1984, a ballet class was taking place in the Briansky Dance Center’s second-floor space.  The students and instructors were forced to flee when a fire broke out on the ground floor.  The group managed to escape safely, but the following morning The New York Times reported, “Two men and a dog” had to be rescued by firefighters.  One firefighter suffered a broken ankle in the incident; however, no one was more seriously injured.  The newspaper said, “Arson was suspected in the blaze” which took nearly three hours to control.

The Preventative Services Project moves its offices into the renovated building.  It offered help to individuals experiencing mental illness and would remain for at least a decade.

A demolition permit for the entire blockfront was issued in 2000.  The buildings were razed to make way for a 22-story apartment building.

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


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