Sunday, July 19, 2015

Found!...The NYC I. Miller Building

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann          
Right at Times Square in NYC, on the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, stands the I. Miller Building, completely restored on the outside, and remodeled on the inside, by the Express Inc., fashion apparel company, which acquired the historical landmark building in 2012. 

The architect Louis H. Freeland was originally commissioned in 1926 to remodel the brownstone structure at the corner of 46th and Broadway into the stunning limestone, marble and bronze headquarters of the I. Miller empire. In 1911, the shoemaker Israel Miller had set up shop at Nos. 1552-4 Broadway, and in 1926 the Polish immigrant was one of the most famous shoemakers and importers of shoes in the US, with 4 stores in Manhattan, 1 in Brooklyn and a total of 16 stores nationwide.  I. Miller originally designed shoes for the entertainment business, and his success was largely due to the actresses and actors for whom he first designed beautiful costume shoes. 

Ties to the entertainment business explain why it is written in stone, on the 46th street façade of the building: “ I. Miller Building - The show folks shoe store dedicated to beauty in footware”. And this is also the reason why the recesses on each side of the 5 upstairs windows display full-length marble art deco statues of the most popular actresses of the time. The location at Times Square also remains as a central district for NYC theaters and entertainment.

To determine which celebrated actresses would represent the entertainment industry, I. Miller organized a contest, the results of which were published in Sept. 6, 1927 issue of the The NYTimes. The four winners represented four different areas of entertainment: Ethel Barrymore was selected to represent the drama, Marilyn Miller to represent musical comedy, Rosa Ponselle to represent opera and Mary Pickford to represent motion pictures.

I. Miller Building - Marble statues of Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy and Marilyn Miller as Sunny 

The Philadelphia sculptor Alexander Sterling Calder (father of Alexander Calder, the famous modern art, mobile sculptor) was commissioned for the sculptures of the actresses, each representing an entertainment branch. Calder chose to depict Ethel Barrymore (Drew Barymore's great-aunt!) in the role Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet ; Mary Pickford (also producer and founder of United Artists) in the role of Cedric in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children novel Little Lord Fauntleroy; Marilyn Miller in the role of Sunny the circus queen in the Broadway musical Sunny with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach; and Rosa Ponselle as Leonora in the Verdi’s opera La forza del destino.

The I. Miller building was inaugurated in front of a crowd of 3000 on Oct. 20, 1929, a few months after Israel Miller died in Paris (France).

The building façade withstood a devastating fire on Jan 31, 1959 when the building housed a Howard Johnson Restaurant. The billboards of the Broadway façade were reported to have prevented access for the fire to be extinguished.   

The building was awarded a historical landmark designation in 1999.
In June 2015, as flagship store for Express fashion, the façade appeared as beautiful as ever on 46th street, and the inside rocks!!!
I. Miller Building Express flagship store - June 2015 

Photos – All mine.
Gray, Ch. (Feb. 10, 2008) A little Jewel box of a shoe store – Broadway and 46th The New York Times – Feb. 10, 2008
The 1929 Miller Building – No. 1552-4 Broadway
“The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear”
I. Miller, shoe manufacturer, dies (Aug. 15, 1929) Jewish Telegraphic Agency
I. Miller & Sons
Alexander Sterling Calder (Sculptor – father)
Alexander Calder (Modern artist and sculptor son)
Ethel Barrymore (Theatre)
Hamlet (Shakespeare)
Mary Pickford (Motion Pictures)
Little Lord Fauntleroy (novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett
Marilyn Miller (Musical)
Sunny (musical )
Rosa Ponselle (Opera)
La forza del destino (opera – Guiseppe Verdi)
NAME STAGE FAVORITES -  I. Miller Concern's Patrons Hold Popularity Contest – NY Times Sept. 6, 1927. [$3.95 pdf access fee] 

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