The twelve iron columns along Mercer Street, at the back of this substantial brick-and-stone building facing Broadway, brilliantly demonstrate how the metal can be fluidly shaped into decorative forms. Swirling bands of iron twist around the smooth columns in snakelike fashion to entwine the lower portion of the three-quarter-round shafts. At the cornice line above the storefront, more than 100 tightly coiled bands of metal fit compactly into separate square compartments, as if ready to lurch forth from their confinement.
The land on which the building stands was part of the vast real estate holdings of John Jacob Astor (1763‒1848). His home stood nearby at Broadway and Prince Street, and he could walk around the corner to his modest one-story brick office at 85 Prince Street.