Walkabout: A Fortune in Lace, Part 2

Read Part 1 of this story here.

Fortunes can be made from many things, and many of Brooklyn’s wealthiest men became wealthy from the selling of goods and commodities. John Gibb was one of them. In the last post, we were introduced to Mr. Gibb, a Scotsman who came to New York in 1850, and 15 years later was a millionaire as a partner in the largest lace, yard goods and upholstery business in New York, called Mills and Gibb.

He built a fine, large house on Gates Avenue, between Franklin and Classon avenues, and entered Brooklyn high society. He had a very large family, with seven sons and six daughters. In 1887, he and two of his eldest sons, Howard and Arthur, went into partnership with Frederick Loeser.

Mr. Loeser (pronounced Low-zhur) had been business partners with Louis and Herman Leibmann in the establishment of a very successful dry goods store called Frederick Loeser and Co., located in downtown Brooklyn at 277 Fulton Street. By 1860, they were firmly established as one of Brooklyn’s pre-eminent merchants, with numerous ads in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, selling ladies’ gloves, hats, clothing, fabrics and other dry goods.

Twenty-seven years later, Frederick Loeser dissolved his partnership with the Leibmann’s, (yes, there was a lawsuit) and went into partnership with the Gibbs. What resulted from this union of successful merchant, and successful wholesaler was a brand-new, state-of-the-art, upscale shopping emporium that took Brooklyn by storm.

From the fulsome praise lavished upon the new store, this was indeed a retail match made in heaven. The mammoth store on the corner of Fulton and Bond streets, at 484 Fulton Street, was five stories of shopping wonder, costing over a million dollars to furnish and stock. The Eagle, in a long front-page article on March 22, 1887, describes the store in great detail, the interior of the establishment is of great beauty.

The woodwork is of selected ash and mahogany, adorned with gold and bronze. It also noted that the store would have elevators, electric lighting, and telephone and messenger service. Period photographs show impressive bronze or cast iron elevator banks, highly decorated with reliefs and ornament. In 1887, all of these innovations were modern marvels.

Howard Gibb was in charge of all the interior furnishings and design. The paper notes that he had spent a great deal of time in Europe picking furnishings and decor, and made much of the large glove counter Howard had installed, which was an exact copy of the glove counter in the Bon Marche store in Paris. The Eagle article is a joy to read, telling about the hiring of the window dresser, Mr. S.B. Seitzl, an artist, who had been employed by Jordan Marsh in Boston and John Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, recommendations about which nothing more need be said.

Goods in the store included, dress goods, embroideries, lace, white and fancy goods, gloves, men’s furnishings, hosiery, ladies’ underwear, jewelry, collars, cuffs, toilet sets, leather goods, parasols, ribbons, stationery, perfume, velvets, corsets, cloaks, furs, hats, infants outfitting, flowers, feathers, millenary, shawls, suits, costumes, muslin underwear, and worsted, curtains, upholstery, boy’s clothing, art goods, and shoes.

Because most of the goods in the store were imported by Mills and Gibbs, Loeser’s was able to make its prices some of the best in town, and the store was so successful that an annex was soon needed, which was built directly across the street on the other side of Bond Street. The two stores could be accessed by a covered walkway that stretched across Bond, on the fourth floor, which is still in existence today.

As the 20th century progressed, Loeser’s remained successful, and expanded its merchandise into furniture, pianos and other luxury home goods. Management was praised for the way it treated its workers, and employees enjoyed a better working experience and pay than in many other retail establishments of their day.

In 1903, Frederick Loeser retired, and control of the establishment went to the Gibb family. John Gibb had already retired, and had brought sons H. Elmer and Walter into the company. He died at the age of 75 in 1905 at his estate called Afterglow in Islip. His funeral at Trinity Church on Montague St. was covered by the Daily Eagle, and was attended by many of New York’s most important men. His obituary ran in the New York Times.

Unmentioned is the tragic family history unfolding as John Gibb was eulogized. Howard Gibb, the master of Loeser’s and eldest son, had died of heart failure only months before his father. His brother Walter took control of both Loeser’s and Mills and Gibb. Arthur Gibb droppred dead in January of 1911. Lewis died in July of 1912, his brother Walter died one month later, on July 26, 1912, and brother Elmer died the next October, in 1913.

Within seven years of John Gibb’s death, all seven of his sons were dead, all of sudden heart failure. It is unclear if the Gibb family retains control of Loeser’s for long after that, but the store itself survived until 1952, when it finally closed.

The main branch of the store underwent a massive face lift on the Fulton Street side in 1953, the elegant Victorian windows replaced by a modern plain facade, and the building renamed the Jowein Building. Another Brooklyn icon moved in — McCrory’s Five and Ten, until it closed in the 1980s.

The store space has now been subdivided into smaller stores, and the upper stories of the building do not seem to be utilized. The only tangible reminder of the great store that was Loeser’s is found underground. The corridor leading from the A/G train at Hoyt Schermerhorn features glass windows with an L in a circle.

Loeser’s used to have its own subway entrance, passed on to McCrory’s. Most people pass it everyday, with no knowledge of the amazing and successful shopping emporium that once was, and the families that made it successful.

Top: Late-19th-century postcard.

New facade - 1953. Now McCrory's. Brooklyn Public Library

New facade, 1953. Now McCrory’s. Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

2007 - Property Shark

2007 photo via PropertyShark

2007 Property Shark

2007 photo via PropertyShark

Original Loeser's facade, Elm Street building.

Original Loeser’s facade, Elm Street building.

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