The Haughwout Store is the oldest and the most famous cast iron building in the Historic District, built as a department store in 1856 for E. V. Haughwout, an importer of silver and glass and a manufacturer of fine chandeliers and hand-painted china. Mary Todd Lincoln visited the store on May 16, 1861, and purchased a complete set of Haughwout’s china for the White House.
The store’s design is similar to Sansovino’s Library of St. Mark in Venice. Originally painted a sandy, putty color which the Victorians called “Turkish drab,” it must have looked indeed like a fine Venetian stone building.
The elaborate window design is repeated ninety-two times along Broadway and Broome Street. A keystone arch rests on free-standing colonnettes flanked on either side by tall, fluted Corinthian columns standing on paneled bases. Cast by Badger’s Architectural Iron Works, the most famous foundry of its time, the building is as finely detailed as any cast iron structure in the world. The spectacular exterior design was matched by revolutionary technology inside: the first practical passenger elevator was introduced here by Elisha Otis on March 23, 1857.
The Haughwout building has always generated excitement. In Ada Louise Huxtable’s view, “the Haughwout store’s iron elegance contained all the seeds of the future; its metal facade was to lead in turn to the metal frame; the elevator, combined with the metal frame, was to produce the skyscraper; and its repetitive Palladian rhythms were to become the basis of today's aesthetic of pre-fabricated, mass-produced structural units.”