Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Tailor Shop: Between The Cracks

From approximately 1913 -1917, Henry Miller spent a portion of his twenties working in his father's tailor shop. The soundtrack to the novels he wrote in his head was that of the clattering of Manhattan rush hour in the morning and of sewing machines in the afternoon.

"I would get off at Delancey Street on the elevated line. From there I'd walk to Fifth Avenue and 31st Street. It was a good walk -- took me almost an hour. All this time I was plagued with the thought that I was a writer who never did any writing ... Nevertheless, it was there inside me; I would compose novels and stories as I walked, complete with characters and dialogue. Like that I must have written several books [during] the period when I worked for my father in the tailor shop."
(Henry Miller in My Life & Times, p. 87; Playboy Press, 1971)

The business was located at 5 W. 31st Street in Manhattan. I wrote about this location in January and February 2007. The building still stands, directly opposite the Hotel Wolcott where Henry's father used to drink.

Above: "Hy" (condensed form for Henry) Miller listed in Trow's General Directory for Manhattan and Bronx, 1910. Henry Miller Sr. (famous Henry's tailor Dad) works at 5 W31st and lives at 1063 Decatur, Brooklyn. Source:

Recently, one of the current residents of the building made an interesting discovery. Steve Cooper has been an eighth floor tenant since 1976 and had been aware for some time that 5 W. 31st is the location of the Miller tailor shop. Where the exact floor was located, however, has always been a mystery. Recently, Cooper did some rennovations on the eighth floor, tearing up two layers of linoleum and a layer of massonite. While refinishing the wooden floor beneath, he found antique needs and pins, as well as old sewing machine parts, embedded in the cracks of the floor -- 10 ounces worth (the volume of a tennis ball, says Cooper).

Above: Google Maps 2011 low angle view of 5 W. 31st Street (brown building).

While it's fact that the eight floor had been a belt factory (would they use sewing machines?) before Cooper moved in in 1976, and that the entire building had been comprised of commercial factories over the decades, the discovery of sewing-specific evidence makes for an intriguing possibility that Henry Miller & Son may have once occupied that space.

The eighth floor is currently Mr. Cooper's art gallery and framing business, Sybille Gallery.


Blogger Kreg said...

Very interesting find! Somehow I had always imagined the tailor shop as a ground-level storefront. This makes sense though as I imagine the rents on higher level floors would be cheaper.

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Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

So cool. Like Kreg, I would have expected a business on the ground floor. But I think that's a more modern perception.

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Anonymous Thomas said...

When I went to see the place a few years ago, there was a Chinese business on the ground floor...
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