F.Y.I.: For a Haberdasher’s Castle in Midtown, a Final Tip of the Hat

F.Y.I.: For a Haberdasher’s Castle in Midtown, a Final Tip of the Hat

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The original tenant of 564 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was a men’s haberdashery called Finchley’s.

Credit
Office for Metropolitan History

Q. A stately building on Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47th, that resembled a castle was torn down in March. What was the history behind it?

A. Finchley’s Castle was an unusual building that languished mostly unnoticed for decades in the bustling Fifth Avenue shopping district. It was designed in 1924, but now it is rubble and few seem to have noticed its disappearance.

Those who used to notice it, however, were drawn to its architecture, which was a charming oddity on a strip jammed with clothing retailers and chain stores. The six-story building, designed in a Tudor style, looked as if it had been plopped incongruously into the rush of Fifth Avenue. Its original tenant was a men’s haberdashery called Finchley’s, and a castlelike tower jutted from its regal facade — hence its nickname.

“It looked like it was shipped over from some cathedral town in England,” said Alex Herrera, a preservation expert at the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “It was a little piece of Canterbury on Fifth Avenue.” Mr. Herrera lamented its demise, declaring the building an unsung “grace note” of Midtown Manhattan’s landscape.

Finchley’s went out of business in the 1970s, but remarkably the building went untouched for 50 years even as its surroundings evolved into an arcade of commerce (a souvenir shop eventually replaced its ground floor, but the rest of the structure’s facade was spared from change).

The haberdashery was opened by Edmund L. Goodman, who sought to offer English-style clothing for affluent men. The late architecture writer Christopher Gray once wrote of Finchley’s: “A single salesman took care of the customer through the entire store, with its fireplace, beamed ceilings, ornamental plaster and fifth-floor lounge with piano and reading table.”

This concept of shopping for tweed suits in a rarefied setting was precisely what inspired the building’s architecture; its look was an advertising gimmick of sorts. Mr. Goodman wanted a dapper collegiate clientele, so he hired the architect Beverly King, who provided a design with echoes of Old Boys and Cambridge University.

Tom Miller, who writes the New York architecture blog Daytonian in Manhattan, said the demolition amounted to a historical loss. “It was the only example of commercial neo-Tudor architecture left in the whole city,” he said, adding that some residential examples still exist, including Pomander Walk on the Upper West Side.

Finchley’s Castle was demolished by Extell Development, and until recently, one could still peer up into its open windows from the street. (The site’s future remains unclear.)

Landmark protection most likely eluded it, Mr. Herrera said, because the building was too obscure. “Unfortunately I don’t think it rose to the level of significance for a landmark,” he said. “It fell through the cracks.”

But there are always those who remember, which is how old New York lives on. As pedestrians passed the construction site on a recent Thursday, Bob George, 61, who works in the art gallery one door down, recalled Finchley’s Castle well. He said it added whimsy to his mornings for over three decades. Until it didn’t.

“One day it was all just flat,” he said. “It was down under the ground. After all these years, I thought it was never going to go away.”

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