Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The 1896 Baudouine Bldg -- No. 1181 Broadway

Charles A. Baudouine opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830.  As highly-ornate Victorian style came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him the reputation as one of New York’s premier cabinetmakers in the decades after Duncan Phyfe.  His sole competitor in New York was John Henry Belter with whom he was (and is) consistently compared.
This Rococo Revival sofa came from the workshop of Charles Baudouine -- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
When Cyrus West Field purchased his mansion on the newly-developed Gramercy Park, he commissioned Baudouine to furnish the entire house—it was the first time in New York that a professional designer was hired as an interior decorator.
As Baudouine’s wealth accumulated, he invested heavily in real estate.  Recognizing the potential of the northward movement of commerce up Fifth Avenue and Broadway, he bought up small buildings and erected modern business structures.  Charles Baudouine would not live to see his last project fulfilled.  He died on January 13, 1895 leaving an estate of approximately $3 million.  
At Nos. 1181 to 1183 Broadway stood an old hotel known as the Brower House.  The building was demolished and not long after Baudouine’s death construction commenced on a 10-story store and office structure--the Baudouine Building.  Designed by architect Alfred Zucker, it was completed the following year.  Situated at a slight bend in the thoroughfare, it claimed a commanding presence to anyone looking down Broadway.

Even today the location affords the building an opportune presence.
Zucker clothed his steel and iron framework in sandy-colored brick and terra-cotta on a rusticated two-story base of limestone.  Despite the decorative elements, including an ornate closed pediment on the West 28th Street side; Zucker’s design would have been less-than-remarkable were it not for one feature: a large, meticulously designed Greco-Roman temple on the roof.
Painstaking details in the temple, invisible from street level, are seen from a roof across the street -- photography by C. T. Brady, Jr., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UP1GWSE63V&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=894
It is possible that the two-story temple was designed specifically as the offices of the Charles A. Baudouine Realty Company, the first tenant in the building.  Run principally by son Charles A. Baudoine, it was also perhaps the first tenant to run into trouble.
Baudoine had in his employ a 27-year old “confidential clerk,” Albert Page Wood.  On November 4, 1897 Baudoine sent the man to the Second National Bank to deposit $700 in checks and $262 in cash.  When he returned to the office around noon, he made the excuse that he had left the deposit book at the bank.   On November 6 The New York Times reported “The officers of the bank said that Wood had made no deposit, and they knew nothing of the book.  The police found the book and checks in Wood’s pockets.  He refuses to tell what he did with the cash.”
Young Albert Wood was arrested and learned a valuable lesson:  When you steal $262 in cash from your employer, it is best not to go back to work.

Unlike his father, Charles had difficulty keeping his name out of the newspapers.  In 1894 he married Agnes M. Rutter, daughter of Thomas Rutter, president of the New York Central Railroad.  That same year they became friendly with writer Casper W. Whitney and his wife, Annie Childs Whitney, who lived nearby the newlyweds on West 58th Street.  In December of that same year the Baudouines were divorced and a month later the Whitneys separated.

Six months later Charles and his new love were married and sailed off to Europe where they remained until February 1897.  They returned to find that Casper Whitney had sued to have his wife’s divorce decree set aside and he filed for his own divorce.  Since the original divorce was no longer legal, neither was Charles’ and Annie’s wedding.  The couple was remarried amid the glare of newspapers and society.

Louis L. Meyer ran his tailoring business on the second floor of the Baudouine Building in 1899.  He was found dead on a sofa here on April 11 that year in mysterious circumstances.  A janitor reported seeing a “strange man” leaving the vicinity.  On the floor nearby Meyer’s bloodied body was a broken bottle which had contained carbolic acid.  His lips were acid-burned and an ambulance surgeon said that “his death had undoubtedly been caused by carbolic acid,” according to The New York Times.

Friends of the tailor said they believed he committed suicide while “mentally overbalanced from overwork,” despite the fact that his business was prospering.  The Times noted that “The blood stains were not accounted for.”
At the same time, the famous stage actress Julia Arthur had her offices here.  One of her celebrated roles was that of a man—Hamlet.  Readers of The New York Times were delighted when, on July 13, 1899, the newspaper reported “It was said yesterday at the offices of Miss Arthur’s company, 1181 Broadway, that she would probably be seen as the Dane before her engagement at the Broadway Theatre ends.”

A succession of renowned architects would take space in the building over the years.  In 1900 Henry Anderson moved in; in 1909 Henry Atterbury Smith was here when he designed a group of four tenement houses for Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, specifically designed for tuberculosis victims; and William A. Hewlett occupied offices here in 1914 through 1916.
In 1901 Harry Elliott ran his pharmacy in the Baudouine Building; the same year that The Art Publishing Company came up with a clever gimmick to sell issues of its new magazine.  The firm ran advertisements in newspapers like The Sun publicizing a contest to name the new periodical.  It offered $3,500 to the person who submitted the winning title.

“Can you suggest a suitable name?  The publication is handsomely bound with colored cover, and printed on the finest super-calendared paper, is beautifully illustrated and full of bright, up-to-date articles on current topics, all of which are of a most interesting character.  In other words, you will find it the most interesting and instructive publication you ever read, and fit for the finest homes in the land.”

The Art Publishing Company was careful not to reveal too much about the contents.  It wanted to sell a copy to each of the aspiring contest participants with the glint of $3,500 in their eyes.  “The best and surest way to win the money is to get a sample copy so that you can see what it’s like.  You can then form an idea of what would be a suitable name for it, and may suggest and send any number of names from 1 to 30 to select from.”  In order to find out what the magazine was all about, the reader was required to mail in a dime, the price of a single issue.

Also in the building was T. Cook & Sons, ticket agents for the Midland Railway, an English railroad that promised “the most interesting and picturesque route through the centre of England.”  The agents would stay on in the Baudouine Building for years. 

At the same time the New York Registry Company was located here.  A sort of life insurance firm, clients would “register” and were provided with a brass tag on which a number was inscribed.  Upon producing the tag, which was intended to be worn by the insured, the beneficiary would be paid.

The company figured somewhat ghoulishly in the life (and death) of canal boat captain Gordon Maxon in 1903.   Early in December of that year Maxon moored his boat the H. A. Comiskey to a pier at Coenties Slip.  He was nagged by an uneasy premonition and told acquaintances “he felt that he would drown sooner or later.”  He therefore registered with the New York Registry Company.   Only a few nights later the Captain and his wife were aboard the canal boat.  He went above board to make sure things were properly moored and did not return.

The Evening World assumed “In some unknown way he fell overboard and was drowned.”  Mrs. Maxon headed off to the Baudouine Building to claim her insurance benefits; but Captain Maxon wore the tag around his neck and the body was missing.

Finally, four months later on the afternoon of April 10, 1904, the body of the 60-year old captain was found floating in the river.  “When his body was found the tag was found in his clothes and the identification made,” reported The Evening World.  “Maxon’s wife has been unable to collect the insurance on her husband’s life because the tag must be produced, but will be able to do so now.”

While the New York Registry Company was selling insurance, the St. James Society was offering cures to drug addiction.   One advertisement in the February 1901 issue of The Cosmopolitan recounted the story of a New York businessman who lost his job and whose life was being ruined by morphine.  “I sent for a trial bottle [of the cure], which the doctor sent me free of charge, and before I had taken all of the trial bottle I felt a change come over me—in fact, the FREE TRIAL almost cured me of the desire for drugs, and the St. James Society gave me the only comfort and encouragement I had received in five years.”

The Evening World, October 27, 1903 (copyright expired)
Within three months, said the advertisement, he had his job back, was earning $10,000 a year, “which is more salary than I was getting when I lost my position,” and was free of addiction.  The ad offered the free trial bottle; but neglected to mention what the follow-up doses would cost.

James D. Murphy Company, a major building contractor, had its offices in the building in 1904 when it had the unenviable task of forcing 32 families out of their homes in the Lexington Avenue and 25th Street neighborhood, to make way for the anticipated 69th Regiment Armory.

James D. Murphy was painted as a cold-hearted brute by newspapers.  “In many cases persons were too ill to be removed, and, in one instance, a death resulted from catching cold while looking for another apartment,” said The Times on February 16.  Murphy tried to explain.  “It is not the James D. Murphy Company which is doing what is being done, but the city…There is no desire on the part of the Murphy Company to be harsh or hard, or to create trouble for any one.”

Another large contracting firm here was that of Patrick Gallagher.  Gallagher, his wife and daughter, lived nearby on East 29th Street.  In 1905 he received a number of building contracts “and as he could not go on his own bond, he transferred…the property…to his wife, so that she could qualify,” said The Times.  The somewhat questionable move would cause problems later.

Three years later Gallagher instructed his wife to reconvey the properties to him.  She refused.  So he sued her and received a court order in his favor.  Mrs. Gallagher appealed.  So Gallagher sued her again in September 1908—this time for contempt of court.  The New York Times found the back-and-forth legal squabbling puzzling.  “Husband and wife are living in the same house and have a 17-year-old daughter,” it said.

Mrs. Gallagher’s lawyer was equally shocked.  “Never before in the history of our jurisprudence so far as I have been able to discover, has a court of justice been called upon by a husband to send his wife, with whom he is living, the mother of this child, to jail for contempt on a charge of this kind.”

Gallagher insisted he did not want his wife jailed; he merely wanted his property returned.

His domestic problems were not the only reason Gallagher that would see the inside of a courtroom that year.   He had contracts to construct school buildings for the city; but in August 1908 his payments were not being received and he sued the City.   The Committee on Buildings of the Board of Education agreed with him.  “The committee asserts that the Controller has delayed for months the payment of money to contractors which should never have taken more than ten days,” reported The Times.

Gallagher did not care who was responsible—he simply wanted to be paid.    He wrote to the Controller saying he intended to sue him and the city “for loss which he says the Controller has caused him by withholding money due on contracts.”

The outspoken Gallagher was back in the press a year later when he lashed out at the Mayor for “his expressed ignorance of the provisions of the newly revised Building Code.  In his letter to the His Honor, the contractor said in part that “city finances are so crippled by the fearful mismanagement and unpardonable extravagance of our officials that we have been and are unable to start any new school buildings for near one year.”
Bold letters announce the building's name on both elevations.

By now the Garment District was inching towards Broadway and 28th Street.   The Croonborg Sartorial Academy, a school of fashion and apparel, was in the building by 1907.  Once a year it put on its Annual Garment and Style Exhibit—a fashion show that brought both women and men up to date on current trends.

The August 1907 show proved that dark blue was the new color for men's formal wear.  “Of all the evening suits on exhibition there from the scissors of some of the most celebrated tailors in the country, two-thirds are made of blue worsted,” reported The Times.  “The new suits are otherwise not much different than the evening clothes of last year.  The tails are chopped off a bit squarer, but that is all.”

The newspaper’s critic was not taken with most of the new styles, saying they looked “very much like the wardrobe of a vaudeville slapstick artist or a Dutch comedian.” Speaking in particular of one coat the exhibitors said promised to be “very popular,” the writer cautioned “Any one who appeared on Broadway a year ago wearing that coat would have been followed for blocks by a mob anxious to see what he was advertising.”

Other apparel concerns followed; among them Croonberg Fashion Co.; Thain, Hewlett & Reddy; the Pennsylvania Button and Trimming Company; and the Matthews Clothes Shop in the first floor retail space.  Matthews would be a fixture in the building into the 1920s.

The Evening World, November 26, 1920
In March 1918 the Baudouine family received a shock when Charles’ niece, Marguerite Baudouine Burke, sued her father and uncle for a share in her grandfather’s estate.  Her vicious attack asserted that her father was an “inveterate gambler and speculator” who “lived a life of dissipation” and was “morally and financially irresponsible.”  She said Charles was “living a life of luxury and pleasure and devoting himself to horses and dogs.”  She said he has “lived a life of idleness, luxury and display” and described her father as “openly branded by his creditors as a cheat and fraud.”

Therefore, she explained in her court papers, $15,000 a year would be sufficient for Charles and John Baudouine (about $150,000 today) from their father’s $3 million trust.  Assumedly that would leave “sufficient” money for Marguerite and her siblings upon her father’s and uncle’s deaths.

On December 6, 1929 tragedy struck here when Mrs. Henriette Insko visited her husband in his jewelry office.  The 23-year old woman dropped a package in the elevator and, as she bent to retrieve it in the moving cab, her head hit the landing of the ninth floor.  She died within minutes.  Oddly enough, Melvin Anderson, the elevator operator was arrested on a technical charge of homicide.

Throughout the remainder of the century the building continued to be home to apparel firms like the Bowcraft Co., a “shoe trimmings” firm that took a full floor in 1950; and novel companies like the Interstate Toy Co.  In 1979 a gas explosion in the basement of a novelty store at street level injured five persons.  The blast caused a brief flash fire, broke windows in the area and created gaping holes in the concrete sidewalk.

By 2004 the wonderful temple on the roof of the Baudouine Building had become residential—home to a business tenant whose office was on a lower floor.   Although the street level of the building has been brutally altered to accommodate garish novelty and electronics stores; above the structure is unchanged.  And the out-of-place slice of Rome atop is a marvel, prompting the “AIA Guide to New York City” to call the building “A sliver with a meticulous Ionic-columned Roman temple on top.  Peer upward.”

photographs taken by the author


  1. Thanks for this post. I will most def. LOOK UP!

  2. Do you have any idea when-or if- the Baudouine family sold the building?

  3. I've worked in this building-and many in the area-many times...Love the old buildings in the area and their history

  4. Thank you for this fascinating entry, my girlfriends works in this building now and we were curious about it's history. Talk about getting our question answered. Great stuff.

  5. Wow thanks. I've been admiring this building for a while now, stopping to admire it and wishing I could visit the top.