Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Before It's Gone: S. Beckenstein

I've started to do an ongoing series of drawings of buildings and places around the city that are either about to be torn down or altered, or are in danger of it. First up is the S. Beckenstein building, at 130 Orchard St. in the Lower East Side.

I first took notice of this building last winter, but it was too cold for me to sit out there and draw it, so I filed it away in my mental "to draw" list. A few months ago, I saw a posting that construction was beginning on it, so I rushed out to get it down. The building had been purchased years ago by a developer for $28 million. When I got there, the ground floor had been turned into a high-end art gallery. What had been old-school garment shops had been replaced by a totally blank, black facade; so I skipped sketching the ground floor. I'm unclear if the gallery is going to occupy the entire building, or if they plan on retaining the old facade on the upper floors.

Samuel Beckenstein was a Polish immigrant who arrived in New York City in 1910. He began his business selling rags from a pushcart and eventually built a retail store for clothing, draperies and upholstery. The business survived the Great Depression by providing custom trousers "matched and made to order." People who could not afford new suits could purchase pants that matched their suits to replace their worn-out trousers. Beckenstein occupied this building, which was originally a telephone company switch exchange, from 1945 to 1999.

The business is still owned by the fourth generation of the family. It relocated to the Garment District. Fabric businesses there have been being displaced in recent years, and there is a "Save The Garment District" campaign underway. Hopefully this historic business is able to survive.

More history of S. Beckenstein can be found here and here.

Friday, June 9, 2017