The wonderful Mansard roof of 115 Fifth Avenue got me wondering what this building had been when it was first constructed. I suspected it was an old department store. There were a number in this area (around 19th Street), and the old Lord & Taylor is just a block over.
My suspicions were right. It was the Arnold Constable, once America's oldest department store. It was founded by Aaron Arnold, a young English immigrant, in 1825, and began down on Pine Street. Constable was James Marsell Constable, a former employee who married Arnold's daughter and was taken into partnership. The concern moved a few times, always northward, with a long stop in a marble facade on Canal and Mercer. The store catered to the best people in the city, specializing in luxury goods. Carriages were pulling up out in front at all hours of the day.
Arnold retired in 1869, leaving Constable in charge. The store moved to this building at 19th Street that same year, eventually covering the entire south side of 19th Street from Broadway to Fifth Avenue. People loved the Mansard roof then, just as I do today. (Who doesn't love a good Mansard roof?) The store kept moving uptown, abandoning 19th Street in 1914 for Fifth and 40th. (Arnold Constable was never far from its arch rival, Lord & Taylor.) The store closed for good in 1975, and the store's final building became the New York Public Library's Mid-Manhattan Branch. It's funny. Never every building Arnold Constable once occupied still survives, including the Canal Street building.