Holiday Window Displays in NYC: A History

Holiday Window Displays in NYC: A History

Like the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting or Radio City Rockettes, New York City’s impressive window displays are a vital part of the holiday experience. Here in the city, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin until the city’s biggest retailers unveil their annual displays. Since Macy’s debuted the tradition in 1883, the department store window setups have become more intricate and spectacular in their technical design.

In recent years, more retailers have taken advantage of innovative technologies to power their window displays. In 2015, for instance, Barneys New York featured live ice-carving inside their windows, and other high-end retailers have upped their game, too, like when Swarovski used LED technology to mimic diamond jewelry adorning storefront mannequins in2015.

Considering how these displays have evolved into elaborately-planned technological feats, it is especially fitting that the history of department store holiday windows stretches back to the days of the Industrial Revolution. It was then, during the late-1800s, when plate glass became widely available, that store owners were motivated to build large floor-to-ceiling style windows spanning the lengths of their shops.

As a tribute to this New York City tradition and in anticipation of the most wonderful time of the year, let’s take a closer look at famous window displays from New York’s past.

Christmas shoppers in New York City, 1900.

Christmas shoppers in New York City, 1900. [Image: Library of Congress]


By 1914, Saks Fifth Avenue stirs public intrigue at their flagship location by staging ‘unveiling events’ for their holiday display window. Displays at this time incorporated hydraulic lifts beneath the windows, which allowed teams of artisans to work on new designs out of public view.

Holiday Windows in New York City, 1910.

Passersby admire R.H. Macy’s holiday window display, c. 1910s.


In 1933, Macy’s window display was entitled “Around the World at Christmas Time.” All its shop windows embodied a train-travel theme. [Image: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution]

In 1938, Lord & Taylor eschewed the traditional method of presenting store merchandise in favor of a purely decorative display. The department store hangs gilded bells that swing in sync with recorded sounds of sleigh bells.

Holiday window shopping in New York City, 1950s.

Holiday window shopping in New York City, c. 1950s.


Novel properties

Crowds form around Macy’s storefront for “A Fantasy of Christmas” in 1959, which incorporated an ornate tin facade.



Bergdorf Goodman’s window display followed an Art Deco “Ziegfield’s Follies” theme and featured several miniature mannequins from earlier eras, 2012.

In 2015, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology debut a new kind of transparent display technology, which they developed by embedding nanoparticles in glass screens. If the product is marketed to retailers, New Yorkers can expect to see a new class of spectacular display windows in the years to come. 


6 Underappreciated Historic & Cultural Destinations in NYC

6 Underappreciated Historic & Cultural Destinations in NYC

As a nexus of commerce, history, and culture, New York City has no shortage of sites worth visiting. Though they aren’t iconic like the Statue of Liberty, and less traveled-by and touristy than the Freedom Tower, among NYC landmarks, these destinations are among the most underrated.

  1. MoMath – The Museum of Mathematics 


    The Museum of Mathematics provides a rich sensory experience, showcasing the creative aspects of math as a discipline. MoMath opened in 2012, following the closure of the Long Island Goudreau Museum of Mathematics. The interactive museum is dedicated to a subject that is often discussed, though rarely represented via visual display. Instead of boring visitors with complex formulas and algebraic mumbo-jumbo, MoMath offers a sensory experience of what mathematical abstractions look like in real life. The space is as intellectually stimulating as it is visually mesmerizing.

  2. Frick Bowling Alley

    bowling alley beneath the frick
    Who knew the Frick had a hidden bowling alley? Built in 1914, the bowling alley is closed off to public because it only has one exit (which is against city fire codes). This gem of NYC features mahogany paneled walls, maple and pine bowling lanes, and a gravity-driven ball return system that is reminiscent of a marble run.

  3. New York Academy of Medicine Rare Book Library


    This hidden library of everything physiological contains centuries worth of knowledge about the human body. Created during the  mid-1800s as a centralized resource base for NYC doctors, most of the items in the Library’s sprawling catalogue date back to the 15th – 18th centuries.  Among the rich leather volumes and brittle papers are rare works by Sigmund Freud, historic works on disease and obstetrics, and famously, a pair of prototype dentures made of real teeth.

  4. Fort Greene Park

    Aerial photo taken on September 8, 1937 Photo from New York City Parks Photo Archive

    Aerial photo of Fort Green Park c. 1937 (Photo: New York City Parks Photo Archive)

    Fort Greene Park is considered to be Brooklyn’s First Park. Located at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, the history of the lush, 30-acre park dates back to its use as a Continental Army post during the Revolutionary War. As both the formal burial site of nearly 12,000 American soldiers and a bustling green space for residents of surrounding neighborhoods, Fort Greene Park may be the closest thing to “sacred space” among the chaos of New York City.

  5. New York Botanical Garden

    NY Botanical Garden
    Incorporated by New York State legislature over 100 years ago, The New York Botanical Garden is a major horticultural institution. Founded in 1891, the garden is home to the only freshwater river in the city (the Bronx River), the largest pressed plant herbarium collection in the western hemisphere, and a renowned botanical research center.

  6. City Hall Stationtitle_ny_eastside_cityhall

    City Hall Station, which first opened for public use on October 27, 1904, was New York City’s first subway station. Although subway service to this historic station was discontinued in 1945, interested visitors can still lose themselves in the fine architectural details and glossy aesthetic which adorn the City Hall station. Although the City has stopped offering tours of the historic station due to budget constraints, 6-train riders can still catch a glimpse in passing of the grand tunnel and elegant chandeliers.



How To Be Sustainable Without Sacrificing Style

How To Be Sustainable Without Sacrificing Style

Despite what many people think, architects and developers don’t need to compromise their artistic sensibilities in order to construct a sustainable project. Concerns about a building’s environmental impact often take priority over an architect’s own artistic vision of what a building should look like–its form, aesthetics, and spatial design. But this doesn’t have to be the case. These days, more architects, developers, and designers are leveraging structural form to accomplish their sustainability goals. A new cohort of spatially and formally unique projects has emerged; these ‘green’ buildings neither perform or look like anything the real estate industry has seen before.

These days, sacrificing architectural design and style is completely unnecessary; when it comes to aesthetics and sustainability goals, real estate professionals don’t have to compromise. Whether you’re an architect, developer, interior designer, or merely interested in the topic, here are four tips to keep in mind when it comes to constructing beautiful and environmentally-friendly designs.

    1. Work With A Team You Trust 

      Whether an architect, developer, and contractor work well together can make or break a project. Per a common misconception, architects and designers are concerned primarily with the image and appearance of a building and developers (per the same misconception) don’t appreciate the innovation and design involved in building. This oversimplification is totally false. Increasingly, due to the growth of urban planning and sustainable development, the two roles are intertwined, with sustainable architecture and construction relying on holistic approaches to work projects. To ensure your project achieves its sustainability goals in an intentional way, check in with team members to ensure all are on the same page.

    2. “Passive Design” Strategies

      One building trend that’s gaining more attention of late is the use of passive design elements. So-called “passive design” strategies, such as the inclusion of solar chimneys, trombe walls, overhangs, and the orientation of a building for solar concerns, rely on intentional arrangement and placement–as opposed to technology–to complement and respond to their physical environment. Other passive design techniques include the use of adjustable openings (to create a pressure differential) to encourage cross-ventilation and designing structures with U-, E-, and H-shaped plans and tall ceilings.

    3. Material-Based Approaches

      Depending on the climate and weather patterns of a building’s location, innovative insulation and construction materials can be leveraged to accommodate extreme conditions. In colder regions, for example, some new buildings are creatively using glass blocks that contain opaque thermal mass to create new forms of day-lit office space.

    4. Embrace Mother Nature

      Mother nature has a lot to teach us when it comes to sustainable form and architecture. Biodesign, an exciting new discipline which integrates functional ideas that are present in nature, zeroes in on the natural world for sustainable inspiration. Biodesign projects are re-imagining the relationship between buildings and nature. Design strategies that are already mainstream–such as landscaping and extensive planting–could also double as a climate change-mitigating action. Incorporating nature into sustainable architectural design shows a lot of promise and potential when it comes to engineering sustainable building solutions.


Sustainable Preservation of Historic Buildings

Sustainable Preservation of Historic Buildings

Historic buildings add character, history, and aesthetic value to cities. Fifty one years after New York City created its groundbreaking 1965 landmark law to preserve older structures (the law was a response to the razing of the original Penn Station), historic preservation continues to be a relevant topic in New York City.

Many people don’t realize that older buildings can be just as sustainable, if not more so, than new ones. By leveraging new technology and the human imagination, older structures can be adapted in ways that increase their energy efficiency while preserving their historic value. From functional design strategies to lighting and insulation upgrades, here are three strategies and ideas for developers who are interested in sustainable preservation to explore:

Make a concerted effort to incorporate new technologies that are multi-functional. Air conditioning and heating systems which are connected to the Internet can provide useful feedback can save money and energy energy in the long run. Before installing new plumbing fixtures in a building, research your options. These days, the market is flooded with new fixtures and systems that are designed with water conservation in mind!

Strengthening the connection between nature and the built environment is a recurring theme in sustainable preservation. Implementing green design elements within an historic building is easier than most people think. Consider outfitting your building’s roof with natural vegetation, or a rooftop garden; installing a green roof not only improved your building’s energy use, it adds natural beauty to your building structure, too.  

Make intentional choices when it comes to selecting source materials and ensure measures and processes are in place to keep waste generation to a minimum. It can be counterproductive to use extraordinary amounts of new materials to construct energy efficient buildings.

The idea of sustainable preservation is not new, but the subject continues to be relevant as urban populations increase. It’s important for those in the real estate and development industry to  understand to consider the intrinsic value of historic places and how that value can complement environmental and social landscapes of cities. When historic communities maximize their energy efficiency potential, everybody wins.

The Legacy of NYC Mayors: Real Estate

The Legacy of NYC Mayors: Real Estate

Residential housing in New York City is not so different from that found in other large cities. New York City’s housing policies, however, are truly distinctive and the city has long been a pioneer in housing policy. We decided to take a look at several NYC Mayors who, for better or worse, influenced the nature of real estate and housing in the city.

Mayor Dewitt Clinton (1803-1815)


As mayor, Clinton had a vision of NYC as a great commercial center, and by means of commercial success he hoped to raise the city to cultural eminence as well. During his eleven years as mayor, Clinton pioneered free, universal education in New York and instituted the rationalization of the city plan by implementing the “grid” system of numbered streets and avenues. He reformed public markets, started a city orphan asylum, and set out to complete the most ambitious public works project in U.S. history to that point: the building of the Erie Canal.

Mayor Robert Van Wyck (1898—1901)

van wyck

Although Van Wyck’s tenure as mayor was marked by administrative failures and political scandals, his greatest accomplishment was securing the city’s first subway contract, valued at $35,000,000.

Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia (1934—1945)


LaGuardia is remembered for putting the interests of the city and its residents first and foremost. He worked closely with FDR’s New Deal administration to secure funding for large public works projects in NYC. These federal subsidies enabled the city to build new parks, low-income housing, bridges, schools, and hospitals. He also unified the city’s rapid transit system, a goal that eluded his predecessors, and presided over the construction of New York City’s first municipal airport (later named in his honor).

Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri (1950—1953)

Vincent R. Impellitteri

Impellitteri’s tenure as Mayor lasted only one term, during which the city saw scores of public works projects completed. Engineered by Robert Moses, Impellitteri oversaw the construction of 88 miles of highway and a handful of housing projects.

Mayor Ed Koch (1978 – 1989)


As Mayor, Koch oversaw a significant amount of gentrification. During his tenure, the rental vacancy rate dropped 30 percent between 1978 and 1981 and the median rent in that time jumped 26 percent. His administration launched a housing program that continued long after the end of his administration; the program converted 10,000 abandoned or city-seized properties into thousands of completed apartment buildings by the time he left office.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994 – 2001)


One of the major challenges to Giuliani’s legacy is that he failed to address the problem of affordable housing. During his tenure there was virtually no building of low-income housing, and much of the rent-controlled property was released to the market. One of Giuliani’s last – and vividly symbolic – measures was to order the arrests of homeless New Yorkers sleeping on the steps of city churches. And despite Giuliani’s efforts to receive credit, the revitalization of Times Square came from a massive state-city development effort that was started by Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Ed Koch, and seen to completion by the Dinkins administration (Dinkins persuaded the Walt Disney Corporation to make a financial commitment to develop midtown before Giuliani even took office).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2002- 2013)


NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s twelve years in office left a huge impression on the physical landscape of the city. Under Bloomberg, New York City’s skyline got taller, and the city became more attractive, and in turn, more expensive. Bloomberg’s ambitious rezoning projects had a mixed impact, producing a popular public park and luxury condos, but failing to deliver on the affordable housing units he had promised to build.

Real (Estate) Effects of Hosting The Olympics

Real (Estate) Effects of Hosting The Olympics

What becomes of cities that host the Olympic Games, when the athletes and stadiums full of people depart?

Cities typically spend the better part of a decade planning and preparing to host the Olympics, starting when the city initially declares interest and submits an official bid to host, to the International Olympic Committee’s selection, to the eventual opening ceremony taking place. Previous host cities have used the Games as an economic motivation, to invest in much-needed improvements to public transit and brand-new infrastructure.

How real are the economic benefits of hosting the Olympics? According to an Oxford University study completed in July 2016, cities rarely profit from hosting the Games and in fact they often accrue billions of dollars worth of debt. And while the Games are thought to yield economic pay offs, there have been few studies examining the impact of hosting on a city’s real estate markets.

The prospect of revitalization is seen as a major advantage of staging the Olympics. But, in actuality, how are property values affected in host cities? For New York-based photographers Gary Hustwit and Jon Pack, previous host cities offer a few case examples. For their ongoing documentary project, The Olympic City, Hustwit and Pack revisited former host cities to bear witness to the successes and failures of these one-time Olympic landscapes. A selection of Hustwit and Pack’s observations are listed below.

Questions Remain in Rio

Now that the Rio Olympics have wrapped up, questions remain about the fate of the city’s new real estate, which was built to accommodate the event. The property which housed Rio’s Olympic Village has been put in the hands of Carlos Carvalho, a wealthy developer. Carvalho envisions that the area will become a hip, new residential community; so far, only a small fraction of the apartments have been sold.

Beijing (2008 Summer Olympics)

Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, experienced a surge of development in preparation for the 2008 Games. “To put their construction frenzy into perspective, more than all the office space in Manhattan (some 500 million square feet) was erected in Beijing in the two years leading up to the games,” noted Tierney Plumb in HighTower Blog.


Proposed design plan for the Olympic Green—the principal venue of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. [Photo: Sasaki]

Atlanta (1996 Summer Olympics)

Atlanta spent $1 billion in “an Olympic building frenzy” leading up to the Summer Games in 1996. Some of that real estate is still highly visible in the city’s landscape; other developments languished. Most people consider Centennial Olympic Park and Turner Field to be the greatest legacy of those games.

Atlanta 1996

Following the 1996 Summer Games, Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Stadium became Turner Field — the home of the Atlanta Braves.

Barcelona (1992 Summer Olympics)

In Barcelona in 1992, host city officials decided to redevelop parts of the city, focusing on a former industrial area along Barcelona’s waterfront. After functioning as a mixed-use neighborhood to house the athletes’ village, the property became a major tourist destination.

The waterfront locale of Olympic Park in Barcelona, Spain.

The waterfront locale of Olympic Park in Barcelona, Spain.

Seoul (1988 Summer Olympics)

Many analysts believe the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul set a precedent for a “neurotic” model of economic development, a development template which has plagued Olympic host cities since that year.

Site of 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Site of 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Montreal (1976 Summer Olympics)

The 1976 Summer Games in Montreal are considered to be the epitome of “host city development gone awry.” Pre-Olympics development in Montreal cost taxpayers $1.5 billion, a debt that took 30 years for the city’s residents to pay off.

Montreal 1976

Aerial view of Montreal Olympic Stadium.