After the Civil War, the area between Union and Madison Squares became the city’s most fashionable retail district with its impressive group of large department stores. The Ladies’ Mile was particularly popular with middle- and upper-class women who traveled here to shop, window shop, and socialize. Much of the commercial streetscape survives and has been designated a historic district, with handsome cast-iron palaces erected by Arnold Constable, Lord & Taylor, B. Altman & Son, and Siegel-Cooper, which when it opened in 1896 was said to be the largest department store in the world.

Matthew A. Postal is an architectural historian who frequently leads walking tours of New York City.

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