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History Lessons: When Soho Went Ga-Ga for Tiffany's Silver

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The talk of sea-going troves of silver from Tiffany sent us on a hunt for history, and some tantalizing architectural treasures were our reward. In the mid-1800's, when what is now Soho was the center of commercial New York, Tiffany set up shop on Broadway. Back then they were called Tiffany and Young; to house their wares they built a marble-faced emporium at 550 Broadway and incorporated into its facade a nine-foot statue of Atlas holding aloft a big round clock (now seen on their little store on Fifth Avenue). Consumer madness was in full swing and the company thrived. So much so that Tiffany bought out his partner, became Tiffany and Company and expanded into the building next door at 552 Broadway, where all sorts of "fancy goods" were offered including jewelry, timepieces and - of course - silver by the boatload. The former home of Tiffany still stands, but everything about it has changed.

If Soho shoppers seem thick now, in the days when Tiffany ruled this roost crowds were out of control, and none more so than in 1858 when, after the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Submarine Cable, Tiffany bought up the remains of the cable and fashioned it into souvenirs of all sorts. Folks couldn't get enough of the historic knickknacks and the cops were brought in to manage the masses (if only they would be so helpful these days). Tiffany soon found another market of a more serious bent: With Civil War looming and Draft Riots breaking out on the streets of the city Tiffany sold silver sabers and swords for self-protection.

To produce all that silver Tiffany took over the Prince Street Works, an existing foundry around the corner on Prince near Mulberry. The original five-story brick building at 53-55 Prince Street, simple but beautifully detailed with limestone keystones and segmentally arched windows plus yet another round clock above the entryway, went up in 1861. It stands there today, sans clock but recently restored, now home to E. R. Butler and Company. A twin brick annex at 49-51 Prince was erected in 1879 and Tiffany continued to produce silver pieces there until the company outgrew the premises and moved the silverworks to a turreted brick foundry that they built on seven acres near the Passaic River at Forest Hill in Newark (it was converted to condos in the 1990s). The younger twin on Prince came down in 1904, replaced by the 6-story Italianate brick tenement that sits on that site today.

The 1854 building on Broadway still stands but, after Tiffany vacated the premises and moved up to 15 Union Square West (now being fashioned into a Jenga-lovers' condo paradise), the Broadway facade was updated to a Frenchified style in cast iron. How the tides do turn: Today those buildings are home to an HSBC branch and a soon to re-open "revolutionary" Banana Republic. So much for silver. Today it's all about the plastic.
· RackedWire: Help Buy Silver for a Navy Ship [Racked]
· Storecasting: A Banana Grows in Soho [Racked]

Union Square

, Manhattan, NY 10003