Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bazar Francais -- No. 666 6th Avenue

Charles Ruegger took over the middle house in 1929, renovating it as Bazar Francais
In 1850 6th Avenue around 20th Street was still sparsely developed. While a block to the east on Fifth Avenue mansions had begun spilling northward from Washington Square, on 6th Avenue construction had barely started.

Richard Upjohn’s quaint Church of the Holy Communion had been completed in 1846 at the northeast corner of 20th Street. Four years later William Johnson filled the remainder of the block with five matching four-story brick row houses, including No. 666. Completed In 1851, the modest, vernacular homes were constructed for middle class families.

By the early 1880s 6th Avenue was bustling as commercial buildings began lining the thoroughfare from 14th to 23rd Street. Edwin P. Smith, who owned No. 666 at the time, converted it to small hotel and added an extension to the back. By 1900 the area was known as The Ladies’ Mile and well-dressed female shoppers glided from emporium to emporium along the Avenue. That year the former house was outfitted with a storefront that covered the lower two floors.

C. J. Brodil sold their fancy leather goods here, while another tenant around that time was Hardings Plaiting Establishment.  Meanwhile the upper floors were still rented for residential use.

David Harum was living here on October 4, 1905 when he was arrested in a raid on a poolroom. The New York Times noted that he “was bitter at being classed among the goats, and not among the sheep, whom the police turned loose.”

Harum complained to the reporter, “It’s awful to be pinched, but to be called a piker an’ a cheap skate to boot beats all.”

Frazin & Oppenheim established its shoe store here. It was not a good choice of locations, for only a block away, at the southeast corner of 20th Street, was Cammeyer’s, reportedly the largest shoe store in the world. By 1909 Frazin & Oppenheim declared bankruptcy.

Anna M. Wright owned the building in 1911, along with the two former houses on either side. That year it was discovered that a surveying error had resulted in property being omitted from her deed—a strip of land 60 feet long and about ¾ of an inch wide. For the cost of $1.00 the “infinitesimal strip” as a newspaper account described it, was restored to Ms. Wright.

The building was being used as a store and factory in 1925 when Speer Realty Company purchased the property. The wood-framed storefront had been redone in metal in 1922 and a fire escape installed that zigzagged down the fa├žade.

Then in 1929 Chalres R. Ruegger relocated his French kitchen and tableware store here. Ruegger installed an impressive pressed metal parapet above the cornice that boldly announced CHARLES R. RUEGGER 1929. He added another metal sign, BAZAR FRANCAIS, above the second story storefront that ran the width of the building.

Ruegger added a pressed metal parapet that announced "Charles R. Ruegger 1929."
Ruegger’s business already had a reputation for its quality wares. He had been doing business in New York since 1874, originally on South Fifth Avenue (later renamed LaGuardia Place). The name Bazar Francais dated to around 1895.

Still visible are the impressed metal signs "Bazar Francais" over the second story window and "Charles R. Ruegger Inc" below it.
In March 1929 Ruegger purchased the building from Samuel and Nettie Lichtman. The Times reported that “It is to be extensively altered and occupied by Mr. Ruegger for his business of hotel, club and restaurant equipment.” Among the alterations was the removal of the unsightly fire escape to the rear of the building.

Around this time Ruegger opened a shop nearby on 19th Street for the manufacture industrial metal such as ducts and ventilators. The 78-year old Charles Ruegger died in 1931. He had not only created a successful business in the Bazar Francais but was mayor of Woodridge, New Jersey, for two consecutive terms. His son, Charles Jr., continued running the business.

After World War II the firm would produce its own line of copper and brass cookware. The Bazar Francais continued to offer imported kitchen ware as well as its own high-end goods, becoming the first gourmet outlet in the country. Along with small items like butter brushes, the firm offered decorative and hard-to-find articles like the 1956 nickel-plated wine rack “that completes the apartment dweller’s suburban-scorning life.”


Bazar Francais manufactured and sold attractive copper and brass goods like this double boiler

In 1975, after a string of Charles Rueggers had run the Bazar Francais for a century, the business closed.

A painted sign for Bazar Francais is gradually disappearing on the side wall.   Upjohn's Church of the Holy Communion is visible at the right.
Today three of William Johnson’s 1851 houses still stand, with No. 666 in the middle. Despite the passage of decades, Charles Ruegger’s parapet still remains as does, amazingly, the metal signs below and above the second story. The little group and the picturesque church that now houses boutiques are the last remnants of this portion of 6th Avenue before the Civil War.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

9 comments:

  1. I was the last of the Charles Ruegger's to manage the store. Internal problems with a step grandmother forced a financial collapse in 1975. What a shame

    Charles E Ruegger

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    Replies
    1. My grandmother and her sister worked for you

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    2. Hello Mr Charles, could you informe me if it was your family that owned the trademark CHARLES PARIS on many Sabatier knives in the 1920s-30s? The mar came with an addres (58 rue de montmartre and sometimes rue montergueil) together with a Clover of three leaf.
      Thank you very much
      Michel Gruenberg- Researcher of the Scholberg and Broqua & Scholberg and associate marks

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    3. hello Mr Ruegger. Would you know if your family had a shop in France in Paris that sold Sabatier Knives? In the blades they come with the name CHARLES PARIS, an address (sometimes Rue Montmartre, others Rue Montergueil) and with a Clover mark. Apart from that there is the mark of the blade, for example VRAI GF (Guyot) or VRAI HDG (that i dont know what is it).
      Thank you very much
      Michel Gruenberg

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  2. Truly a shame. Your family has a wonderful history. I think about that store everytime I see that building. thank you for writing.

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  3. I am amazed sadened by all the lovely old buildings both grand and humble that have made way for the extraordinary and breath taking shy scrapers that are the New York skyline. There was a time I regret to say has been lost that could have aesthetically ranked New York with any of the grand old cites of Europe but alas that opportunity may have passed.
    I recently visited New York and stayed several weeks I walked every street and and aley and discovered some extraordinary people who have saved some of the historic elements from your cities past such as the Tenement Museum and the Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue. There are other examples that you would be familiar with that added an unexpected dimension to my visit to New York and dispelled any concept I had of a concrete jungle. But despite the losses there are still remnants such as the buildings at 666 and its neighbours that survive and should be protected it would be a shame to see the metal signs lost. May be the City fathers would consider a grant for the restoration of the signs.
    Loved your city and hope that restoration and conservation of your historic past continues.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed your stay and, yes, we have lost a great deal; but a great deal has managed to survive as well. Luckily more and more people are becoming aware of the need to preserve historic structures. While progress must march on, sometimes it needs to take a side step or two! Thanks for your comments.

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  4. I
    During the late 1960's thu early 70's I lived on the 2nd floor above Bazaar Francias. It was a large loft space. I purchased many food prep items in the wonderful shop.

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  5. I recently purchased a copper chef's mixing bowl at an estate sale in southern Virginia. It is stamped Bazar Francias 666. So happy to find it came from such an historic shop and glad the building continues to stand. I am looking at my bowl now and wondering what life it had before I found it. It hangs from my pot rack in California.

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