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Follow-up: Fire at the Ridley Building on Grand Street

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315-319 Grand Street.

Here’s an update on the fire this past weekend at the 125-year-old “pink building,” otherwise know as the former Ridley & Sons Department Store.  The fire broke out Friday night on the third floor of 321 Grand Street (also known as 315-317 Grand).  Windows on three floors were boarded up Sunday and today Jodamo International, the building’s largest retail tenant remains closed. A sign on the door reads, “closed for alterations until next week.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has been weighing whether to protect the Ridley building. A hearing was held in June of 2009.  In news articles, the building’s owners, who have been trying to sell the property, have made it clear they’re not enthusiastic about the application before the LPC.

After the Fire
The Ridley building, on Saturday morning, after the fire. Photo by Roey Ahram.

This morning, Elisabeth deBourbon, spokesperson for the commission, said no vote has been scheduled on the Ridley building application.  If and when the owners decide to make repairs, they would presumably be required to go through the Department of Buildings’ permit procedure. If that occurs,  deBourbon noted, the LPC would need to sign off on any alterations.

Here’s the statement the Landmarks commission prepared on the Ridley building in 2009:

In the second half of 19th century, Edward Ridley & Sons was the largest department store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Founded by Edward A. Ridley in a brick row house in 1848, it grew in stages to fill an entire block of Grand Street, the area’s chief commercial district, as well as substantial sections of Orchard and Allen Streets. These three interconnected properties were mostly commissioned in 1886 by the founder’s sons, Edward and Arthur Ridley, and were part of this merchant’s most ambitious expansion to date. Five stories tall, this building campaign nearly doubled the store’s size and it was described in newspapers as the largest in New York City. By this time, Ridley’s covered approximately five acres and during the holiday season employed an estimated 2,500 people – many who were women and recent immigrants. Designed by architect Paul F. Schoen, his Classical Revival style addition had two distinct facades. On Orchard Street, the architect used brick and stone, while the more prominent Grand Street facade is cast iron, a material frequently associated with mercantile buildings and retail stores. A late example of this type of construction, the iron elevations feature many distinctive details, including rows of round-arched windows, fluted pilasters, and decorative relief panels. Of particular note is the rounded corner, where Grand and Orchard Streets meet. This prominent feature was intended to increase the store’s visibility from trolley cars travelling west from the Grand Street – Williamsburg ferry. During the 1890s, however, sales failed to meet expectations. Many shops were abandoning the neighborhood and Ridley & Sons closed in 1901. Though earlier sections of the subsequently-subdivided building would be damaged by fires in 1904 and 1905, and other sections were demolished and rebuilt to widen Allen Street in the early 1930s, most of Schoen’s 1886 elevations survive and are well preserved.  A rare example of late 19th century cast-iron structure on the Lower East Side, the former Edward Ridley & Sons Department Store is a handsome reminder of a family business that flourished for more than fifty years and the contributions it made to the history of retailing in New York City.


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  1. Don’t want to get too conspiracy-theory here, but does anyone else find it somehow significant that the fire seems to have damaged exactly the part of the building that was “particularly noted” by the LPC? It’s a shame that, in the absence of landmark protection, so many of the historical and architectural treasures of the LES are being sacrificed to development.

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