O’Neill Building / Third Cemetery of the Spanish- Portuguese Synagogue

655 Sixth Avenue
(1875, Mortimer C. Merritt; expanded 1895)

104 West 21st Street

As early as the 1860’s, the West 20s above Union Square had a reputation as a shopping district for a new class of retail consumer, primarily women with disposable income and leisure time to spend on shopping for ready-made clothing and goods. The Hugh O’Neill Dry Goods Store is perhaps the most visible department store on this stretch of Sixth Avenue. With its domed corner towers and central pediment it is among the finest examples of cast-iron architecture in the city. The original fourstory, French-inspired Renaissance Revival design was expanded in 1895 with a fifth floor. The domes and pediment were temporarily removed and then reinstalled on top of the addition. Adding stories or whole new bays on cast-iron fronted buildings was a fairly frequent occurrence, and pointed up the advantages of cast iron as a modular construction technology in which standardized, mass-produced facade components and ornament could be replicated and installed with relative ease. The L-shaped building was erected around a small burial ground on 21st Street, established in 1829 as the third cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel of Lower Manhattan. (The congregation itself moved to Chelsea in 1860, before relocating to the Upper West Side in the 1890s). The O'Neill Building and the cemetery are both located in the Ladies' Mile Historic District.