The New York Times reports that the building at 1600 Broadway, built in 1902 as a showroom for Studebaker Brothers vehicles, facing 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, and served over the years as the backdrop for countless postcards and snapshots of the Great White Way, is being demolished.
Max Fleischer moved his animation studio there December 1st, 1923. For 15 years the studio produced it's cartoon masterpieces - Koko The Clown, Bouncing Ball "Screen Songs", Talkartoons, Betty Boop, Grampy, Bimbo, Color Classics and of course, Popeye - in this building. 1600 Broadway is directly across the the street from 729 Seventh Avenue which, in the 1930s, was the home of rival Van Beuren Cartoon Studios. According to the Times:
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Change, as It Does, Returns to Times Square
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
The old Studebaker Building, which rose at the dawn of the last century over Long Acre Square (better known as Times Square), is about to come down. An apartment building will probably take its place.
Built in 1902 as a showroom for Studebaker Brothers vehicles - luxurious horse-drawn carriages like the Grand Victorias, dashing Spider Phaetons, smart single-seat traps and, for the truly adventurous, those self-propelled devices called automobiles - the once elegant 10-story building at 1600 Broadway, also facing 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, served over the years as the backdrop for countless postcards and snapshots of the Great White Way.
Its rooftop has been a pedestal for enormous signs advertising Maxwell House, Chevrolet, Braniff and Sony. Long after the Studebaker roadsters and coupes moved out, its ground floor was home to the Ripley Believe It or Not! Odditorium ("Curioddities From 200 Countries"), Howard Clothes and Tony Roma's A Place for Ribs.
Columbia Pictures may be said to have been born there, since it was in an office at 1600 Broadway that Harry Cohn, Joseph Brandt and Jack Cohn formed the C.B.C. Film Sales Company in 1920. Four years later, tired of the nickname "Corned Beef and Cabbage," they renamed the company Columbia. The building also housed the National Screen Service Corporation, suppliers of movie posters and other promotional materials.
In other words, 1600 Broadway was one of New York's most familiar unknown buildings.
As recently as the 1980's, its architectural integrity was intact and it still looked much the way it did when Long Acre Square - like the London street, Long Acre - was the heart of the harness and carriage trade.
But in the 1990's, the building fell under the shadow of the 26-story Renaissance New York Hotel Times Square, immediately to the south. Its deep cornice was stripped off and V-shaped sign boards sprouted from its upper corners. Finally, much of its facade was wrapped in a four-story vinyl billboard for Absolut vanilla vodka.
Now there is another addition: demolition scaffolding.
Sherwood Equities, the owner of the property and the developer of the Renaissance hotel, has applied to the city's Buildings Department to construct a 25-story, 136-unit apartment tower at 1600 Broadway. It would be designed by Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Achitecture & Engineering, working with Schuman Lichtenstein Claman Efron. It would rise 290 feet, almost three times as high as the Studebaker Building, which is not a landmark.
Jeffrey Katz, the chief executive of Sherwood, said that he had seriously explored renovating the 102-year-old structure but that doing so would not be feasible.
"It's drastically out of place at this time," Mr. Katz said. "It wants now to become something else."
Indeed, the history of the building itself is one of constant change.
Designed by James Brown Lord, the architect of the Appellate Division courthouse on Madison Square, the Studebaker Building was notable for its broadly arched ninth-floor windows framed by ornamental stonework medallions. Its corners were slightly cut away, or chamfered.
Studebaker Brothers had been at Broadway and Prince Street, and its emphasis soon shifted from horse-drawn carriages to motor cars.
"No other concern in the world manufactures and markets as great a range of self-propelled vehicles," Studebaker boasted in a 1909 advertisement, which invited readers to its "mammoth emporium" on 48th Street. "You should seek the Studebaker headquarters as a haven of refuge from the silvery tongued salesmen who, not knowing themselves, blindly essay to lead the blind."
Only a year later, Studebaker was on the move again, as the center of gravity of Automobile Row shifted northward along Broadway. By the 1930's, the clothier Joseph Hilton & Sons had an outpost at 1600 Broadway, where it sold $22.50 worsted suits.
The base of the building was remodeled in 1939 for the Odditorium, exhibiting the curios collected by Robert Ripley in his travels around the world. "In addition to the inanimate objects," The New York Times reported, "there also will be presented daily performances in which individuals of varied talents will take part."
The Odditorium filed for bankruptcy within a year, after which Howard Clothes moved in, offering $73.95 Dacron-worsted men's suits in the late 1960's.
Atop the building was a commanding sign position, especially in the days when the block between 47th and 48th Streets was occupied by low buildings. Sony had the last spectacular sign on the rooftop, which Mr. Katz, the landlord, said was designed personally by Sony's co-founder, Akio Morita.
By agreement with Sherwood, the horizontal crossbar of the Sony sign went dark when the Renaissance hotel grew high enough to obscure it. In recent years, Sherwood has installed smaller vinyl signs on the rooftop, now for Amstel and Heineken.
Sherwood purchased the building in 1986 from the Robbins family, which controlled National Screen Service. "We took it over it at a low point, when Times Square was the old Times Square," Mr. Katz said. "When we bought it, we knew we wouldn't develop it for a long time."
But that time has come. Because Times Square has changed again.