An Ace in the NoMad Hole

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When it comes to naming a new product, inspiration can strike from just about anywhere.  The only common denominator across products is that each name comes with its own unique story.  This is the story of the Ace Pant, Ace Hoodie, and Ace Short.

The Ace Pant was created to modernize a forgotten childhood favorite.  Sweatpants had been around since the 1920s, but wearing them as an adult meant being confined to the couch or the gym.  The baggy nature of sweats led many to feel that despite wanting to wear them for comfort, they were unacceptable on the streets of Manhattan.  We thought sweatpants should be able to do both though, so we set out to design a pant that was comfortable to wear, but modern looking enough to be worn on 5th Avenue.  Designing the pant was only half the battle though.  It needed a name worthy of its upgrade and for that we only needed to look outside our front door.

Across the street from Mack Weldon’s headquarters is The Ace Hotel.  It is one of the higher end hotels in Manhattan, but 15 years ago, it wouldn’t have dreamed of opening its doors at the corner of 28th and Broadway in the NoMad District.  The NoMad District (North of Madison Square Park) has been many things: a home to the gilded age’s elite, a bustling commercial district, and the world’s epicenter of music publishing, but most recently, it’s been known for its less desirable wholesale storefronts.  The Ace Hotel has been one of the early leaders in revitalizing this downtrodden and forgotten neighborhood.  Along with the restoration of Madison Square Park, The Ace helped give a historic and deserving neighborhood the modern makeover it deserved.  Just like we did with sweatpants.

The Ace Hotel

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The Ace Hotel opened in 2010 inside a historic, turn-of-the-century building as the very definition of hip and trendy with vintage furniture, street art, bold typography, old crates of vinyl, a popular gastropub, and a boutique coffee shop.  Its lobby rivals Grand Central Terminal for daily traffic as international travelers, startup employees, freelancers, and more work and meet on their leather couches.  In six short years, the Ace Hotel has become one of New York City’s hotspots.  But step outside the front door of the Ace and you’ll find a Manhattan neighborhood in transition.  To understand what’s happening in NoMad, you have to understand the history of Madison Square Park which began back in 1686.

Madison Square Park

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New York City was founded in 1624 and in 1686 Madison Square Park was designated as an urban public space to be used as a hunting ground.  That lasted until 1807 when the US Army repurposed it as a grounds to train soldiers and house munitions (to this day Madison Square Park serves as the start of New York’s Veteran’s Day Parade).  In 1839, the park earned its name when an inn known as the Madison Cottage (named for president James Madison) was erected at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street.  The Inn only lasted until 1853, but the name stuck.

The Little Church Around the Corner

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Around that same time, New Yorkers started to build brownstone homes and mansions around the perimeter of the park.  Many of the Gilded Age’s elite settled on the Park and nurtured the spiritual life of the neighborhood, leading to the construction of the Trinity Chapel, Marble Collegiate Church, and perhaps most famously, the Church of the Transfiguration, better known as the Little Church Around the Corner.  The Church of the Transfiguration was founded by George Hendric Houghton in 1849.  Houghton had a soft spot for social outcasts, sheltering escaped slaves, families during the Draft Riots of the Civil War, and members of the theater profession.  It was the latter group that helped earn the church its name.  In 1870, an actor named George Holland passed away and fellow actor, Joseph Jefferson, tried to arrange for the funeral to be held at the Church of the Atonement.  The church’s rector, William T. Sabine, famously refused to hold the funeral, saying “I believe there is a little church around the corner where they do that sort of thing” to which Jefferson replied, “If that be so, God bless the little church around the corner!”

Tin Pan Alley

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At the turn of the century, a commercial boom began to overtake the area as hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and entertainment venues sprung up.  The most famous industry to take hold in NoMad was the songwriting and music publishing industry which made 28th street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues the world’s epicenter of music publishing, earning it the nickname “Tin Pan Alley.”  How did it earn that nickname?  Legend has it that a reporter for the New York Herald was hired to write about the new business of sheet music publishing and as he walked down 28th street, he remarked that the chords and strings of competing pianos through the open windows sounded like tin pans clanging.  Tin Pan Alley represented a time in American music when a songs popularity was determined not by how many records it sold or by its live performances it sold out, but by the number of sheet music copies sold.  Publishing companies would hire composers and lyricists to create popular songs and then they would market these songs to the general public in sheet music form using extensive promotional campaigns.  Every one from Scott Joplin to W.C. Handy to Louis Armstrong to Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday passed through Tin Pan Alley.  Tin Pan Alley’s reign as the most important music street in the country came to an end with the rise of records, radio, and disc jokeys, but the name Tin Pan Alley remains synonymous with the most prolific and diverse period in American popular music.

NoMad’s Demise and Rise

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The demise of Tin Pan Alley preceded the neighborhoods deterioration in the mid- to late-twentieth century as t-shirt, luggage, perfume, and jewelry wholesalers set up their storefronts along Broadway from Madison Square to Herald Square.  This led to the deterioration of Madison Square Park which began to suffer from neglect and petty crime.  It wasn’t until a massive 2001 park restoration project spearheaded by the Madison Park Conservancy spurred a transformation of the neighborhoods surrounding the park – The Flatiron District, Rose Hill, and NoMad.  The once wholesale dominated NoMad neighborhood is now being populated by residences, upscale businesses, trendy restaurants, and desirable nightspots.  The Ace Hotel moved in 2010 followed by the NoMad Hotel in 2012.  Next came high end restaurants such as the Breslin, the NoMad, The Smith, and La Pecora Bianca.  SoulCycle and other boutique gyms opened up and startups like Mack Weldon took up residence in the area’s office buildings.  As Virgin begins to construct its own luxury hotel across the street from The Ace, rents are being driven up, and the less desirable wholesalers are being driven out.  In a few years, NoMad will in all likelihood be unrecognizable from the neighborhood that existed in the back half of the 20th century.  In its place will be a neighborhood that is modern, desirable, and trendy, much like the Ace Pant and the hotel from which it took its name.

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Author: Charley

Charley is Director, Finance & Operations at Mack Weldon.