The Ladies' Mile Historic District was a prime shopping district in Manhattan, New York City at the end of the 19th century, serving the well-to-do "carriage trade" of the city. It was designated in May 1989, by the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission to preserve an irregular district of 440 buildings on 28 blocks and parts of blocks, from roughly 15th Street to 24th Street and from Park Avenue South to west of the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue). Community groups such as the Drive to Protect the Ladies' Mile District and the Historic Districts Council campaigned heavily for the status.
The Ladies' Mile Historic District contains mostly multi-story store and loft buildings. These buildings became common after 1899 when laws prohibited combined home and production areas without a permit, causing people who had previously worked at home to seek commercial spaces; the rise of unions who advocated for better working conditions also contributed to the development.
The area first came to prominence in 1860, when the Prince of Wales stayed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, signalling to New York's high society that the neighborhood was acceptable to royalty. Between the Civil War and World War I, the district was the location of some of New York's most famous department stores and upscale retailers, including B. Altman, Best & Co., Arnold Constable, Bergdorf Goodman, Gorham Silver, W. & J. Sloane, Lord & Taylor, and Tiffany & Co.. The Ladies' Mile also boasted upscale restaurants, booksellers and publishers, and offices and showrooms for piano manufacturers, such as in the Sohmer Piano Building. Performance venues in the district included the Academy of Music and Steinway Hall; the first location of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was there as well.
All of these attractions brought the rich and celebrities to the area, especially since the safety of the district allowed women to shop without male companions to accompany them. Ethel Barrymore, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Lilly Langtry and Lillian Russell were among those who might be found in the opulent shopping district at its zenith. Residents of the area included Horace Greeley, Washington Irving, Samuel F. B. Morse, Emily Post, Edith Wharton and various members of the Roosevelt family.
When the district became more commercialized and less elite, many of the well-known residents moved uptown, and the upscale department stores and shops followed them. By the end of World War I, most of the buildings had been converted into warehouses, and lofts for manufacturers, as well as some residences. The majority of the buildings were not torn down, though, and by the 1980s they had started to be renovated and re-converted into large retail stores at street level, and sometimes above, so that the old shopping district is now one once again, albeit one which appeals to a very different clientele. Stores currently in the district include Bed, Bath & Beyond, Burlington Coat Factory, The Container Store, Marshalls, Old Navy, Sports Authority, Staples and Trader Joe's.
A major anchor of the district is Daniel H. Burnham's Flatiron Building, at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street; most of the Ladies' Mile Historic District lies within the Manhattan neighborhood named after that building, the Flatiron District.