Brands B. Altman and Co.

B. Altman and Co.

B. Altman & Co. was a New York City-based department store founded in 1865 by Benjamin Altman and later joined by Michael Friedsam. The company had stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York state, as well as its block-long main store at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

Benjamin Altman founded his first store on Third Avenue and 10th Street in 1865, which later relocated and expanded to 19th Street and Sixth Avenue. In 1906, the store relocated to the block long structure on Fifth Avenue running from 34th to 35th Streets, which was later expanded to include the Madison Avenue block front.

The architects were Trowbridge and Livingston, who also designed the St. Regis Hotel (1904), the J.P. Morgan headquarters on Wall Street (1913), and the Hayden Planetarium (1935). It was the first large-scale department store on Fifth Avenue. The building was designed to blend into the grand residential structures that dominated the area at that time. A miniature community, the store had a seven-bed medical department, staffed by a doctor and two nurses who provided medical care to employees and, on an emergency basis, to customers. There was also a school that offered lessons in the three R’s to younger employees and a power plant in the subbasement.

When Benjamin Altman died he left no heirs, and besides his art collection going to the Metropolitan Museum, his stock in the stores was placed in a foundation, the Altman Foundation. In 1985, due to changing IRS laws the Foundation sold the stores to an investor group, which included members of the Gucci family. In 1987, the Australian shopping center company, L.J. Hooker purchased the B. Altman stores (as well as Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz and a majority of The Parisian) to utilize these chains as anchors in new shopping centers across the country. The strategy failed and in 1989, B. Altman filed for bankruptcy protection with the last stores closing in 1990.

The name of Altman has, from the earliest days of the business, been regarded as a synonym for integrity, excellence of quality and efficiency of service.


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