Tuesday, March 22, 2011

former Macy's and Stern's (now Queens Place Mall); Elmhurst, Queens, New York

former Macy's and Stern's (now Queens Place Mall); Elmhurst, Queens, New York. Building under construction with the home of Ms. Mary Sondek in the foreground, circa 1965. (Life magazine, via Lou C.)

The above photo submitted by LiveMalls contributor Lou C. tells an interesting story.

In the early 1960s, the R.H. Macy Company began planning a new store in the Elmhurst section of Queens, New York, near the Long Island Expressway. The building was originally planned as a traditional rectangular construction designed to replace several blocks of residences. However, the owner of the corner property, Mary Sondek, staunchly refused to sell what had been her childhood home.

Specifically, she reportedly refused to sell a 7×15-foot back corner of her lot to Macy's for $200,000 because she wanted her dog to have a place to play. As a result, the department store was reconfigured as a circle (with a small cut out of one side) overshadowing the tiny brown shingled house, where Ms. Sondek, a mother of six, continued to live until her death. Her home, that she fought so tenaciously to preserve, was soon leveled and a strip mall was squeezed into the site so close to Macy’s that the two are almost touching.

Despite the divot, the store was still considered the world's largest round retail building. Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed a circular, three-level building that echoed the futuristic pavilions of the 1964-65 World’s Fair just one mile away in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Behind the 142-yard diameter Macy’s rotunda were two circular parking ramps that gave access to the parking garage that ringed the entire structure allowing shoppers to park close to any department in the store. In front of the coliseum-like building was a smaller, circular First National City Bank which, with the parking ramps, gave the appearance of moons orbiting a planet.

Macy's no longer has a department store at this building, though there is a still a Macy's Furniture Gallery here. In 1995, it was converted to Stern's and later closed by Federated Department Stores. The building now contains the Queens Place Mall; and Macy's has a location at the nearby Queens Center.

Sources: Life magazine,
The Universe of Discourse, Wikipedia, HollisNY.com


  1. That's a neat story! I've always thought the Queens Macy's was one of the most imaginative designs ever built.

    There's an ironic parallel here to the Macy's Herald Square flagship, where Macy's was never able to buy the corner lot (where the Sunglass Hut now resides - Macy's rents the space above for the "World's Largest Store" wraparound), so they just built around it. A number of businesses have been on that corner, including a Nedick's Hot Dog stand in the 50's and 60's. To my knowledge, Macy's still hasn't acquired the property, more than 100 years later!

  2. Michael: Urban development was really different back before the '60s. Before, you could clear whole neighborhoods without much protest. People like Mrs. Sondek helped people relize you cold fight and win.

    Dave: You're right. That Queens store was a bold design and an interesting parallel to the Herald Square store.

    Believe it or not, there's a Nedick's on 6th Avenue caddy-corner to Macy's now.

  3. how the HECK did they pull of THAT design it honestly looks like a colosealm type of design the place must have been MASAVE

  4. Glad you liked it. The outside is a parking garage, which makes it look bigger than it the store actually is.

  5. Although the building is round, Macy's itself was a simple square, surrounded on all sides by parking

  6. I was living nearby when it was built, and I've read many accounts of what happened. This is the first time I've ever seen anything saying that the store was supposed to be rectangular. The story was always that it was supposed to be round, but they were forced to put a notch in it because she refused to sell. The idea that they had to change to a round design because she refused to sell doesn't make any sense -- it would have been much simpler to cut a notch out of a rectangle, and if the round design was due to her refusing to move, why was it planned to include her property? I think you've got the story wrong!

  7. I agree with Jeff M above... it was always intended to be round.