Friday, October 16, 2015

From the Archives: "Gentleman Jim" Corbett's on 33rd Street

Today our 34th Street archivist Anne Kumer shares some history of the 34th Street district. This post also appears on NYC Circa.

James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett was the heavyweight boxing champion in 1892. He won the title in the 21st round of a fight with the (so far) undefeated John L. Sullivan. Boxing was still illegal in most U.S. states in the late 1800s; New York State didn't legalize it until 1896, and it wasn't made an Olympic sport until 1904.
James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, 1910. Image: LOC
Corbett legitimized the sport for many by bringing grace and style to the ring. This, along with sharp dressing and a rumored college education earned him the nickname "Gentleman Jim." He followed his career in boxing with a successful one in stage acting. Sometime in the late 1800s he opened a cafe on Broadway, just north of 33rd Street, and named it Corbett's.

Corbett's on Broadway and 33rd Street looking north, 1900. Image: MCNY
Corbett's fit in well in the neighborhood, then an area full of restaurants, bars, and smaller theaters. Actors and publishers were known to drop by, and it was conveniently located near the elevated Sixth Avenue train.

34th Street, where Sixth Avenue and Broadway meet, with the Corbett's sign on the left, 1901. Image: NYPL
The turn of the century brought big retail to the area, and many of the buildings in the neighborhood were razed to make way for large department stores. Andrew Saks bought the properties on the corner of 34th Street where Sixth Avenue and Broadway meet, including the Corbett's building. Saks built his 34th Street flagship store on that corner in 1901. Gimbels followed one block south with a store in 1910, and in the late 1930s, the elevated train went underground.

Saks 34th Street, 1955. Image: MCNY
Though the 34th district is populated with plenty of bars and restaurants, retail still dominates the streetscape. 
34th at Broadway, 2015. Image: 34SP, Anne Kumer