Lord of the Alley

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    I had gone past Claremont Terrace thousands of times — literally – without giving it a second thought about what it was. It’s an alley that is hidden along another dead end in the heart of Elmhurst, one of Queens’ busiest, most populated and diverse neighborhoods — it’s buzzing with energy day and evening. I would pass it, though, on the Long Island Rail Road on my way from Flushing to Penn Station, since its last remaining mansion, in a decayed, ravaged condition, was visible along the tracks. Claremont Terrace’s origins lie in American immigration, and a young businessman who made his name in the United States in the pre-Civil War era, beginning an enterprise that exists and flourishes today.

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    Samuel Lord (1803-1889) was a British foundry worker from Yorkshire who came to the USA with dreams of entrepreneurship, opening a drapery-dry goods shop on Catherine Street in what is now the Lower East Side in 1824, and after struggling for over a decade, he sent for his wife and children to join him in the USA. At about the same time his brother-in-law, George Washington Taylor, joined him as a partner and investor.

    Lord and Taylor opened a larger store near the docks at Grand and Chrystie Streets in 1854, at a time when Grand was among the city’s busiest shopping streets — it was close to the east side docks along South Street, making importing goods a simple matter. The business became wildly successful, both men were millionaires by the early 1860s, and were then able to retire and return to England. The store moved to 20th Street and Broadway in 1902 and then to 5th Avenue and 38th Street in 1914, where it has continued an over 150-year run of success.

    In 1840, while he was still struggling on the Lower East Side, though, Samuel Lord bought property in Newtown, today’s Elmhurst.

    Lord purchased a house at today’s Broadway and Elmhurst Avenue in 1840, and opened a country store across the road. He was committed to Newtown — he commuted by ferry to the Lower East Side each day, and evidently liked what was then a small town, acquiring over 100 acres centered around today’s Broadway where it crosses the Port Washington Branch of the Long Island Rail Road.

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    Above: Claremont Terrace, 1910

    The Lords raised two sons and four daughters in Newtown. In 1856, Lord built four two-and-a-half story mansions for his four daughters along a semicircular path that he named Clermont (later Claremont) Terrace — it was on a short rise — on Broadway just south of the new LIRR branch, which was built shortly after the mansions were. The above scenes are a postcard view showing two or three of the mansions.

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    Up until late 2006, it was still there; I photographed it in about 2000 or 2001 (above). By then it had lost its front porch and gained something of an indoor porch, but had been abandoned and deteriorating for many years indeed.

    In 2006 construction started on a large multifamily building on Claremont Terrace, but evidently, funding dried up and the house is waiting for more money to flow in. Today, only the unpaved alley on a side street in Elmhurst is the only reminder that the founder of Lord & Taylor once lived there.

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